James 'Athenian' Stuart, 1713-1788
'Artists who aim at perfection must…approach the Fountain-Head of their art'
James 'Athenian' Stuart
James 'Athenian' Stuart is a compelling figure in the history of British design. Widely recognised for his central role in pioneering Neo-Classicism, Stuart developed his influential career across various fields: interior decoration, sculpture, furnishing, metalwork and architecture.
The creation of the 'Greek Style' and its impact on British design in the late 18th century is largely due to Stuart's landmark publication Antiquities of Athens. This influential book, first published 1762, was the first accurate record of Classical Greek architecture and served as a principal source book for architects and designers well into the 19th century.
The exhibition held in March - June 2007 at the V&A was the first comprehensive retrospective of Stuart's work. It presented him as an architect, artist and taste-maker, setting his work in the context of 18th century design culture.
The exhibition was organised by the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design and Culture, New York in cooperation with the V&A.
A selection of highlights from the exhibition.
James Stuart was born in London in 1713, the son of a Scottish sailor whose death left his young family in poverty. In 1751 Stuart and his friend Nicholas Revett visited Greece to measure and record antiquities whilst also making a reputation for themselves.
Stuart's work as an architect grew out of his reputation as a painter, connoisseur and authority on Greece. Wealthy patrons employed him for his skill as a designer but also for his judgement in matters of taste. More than a third of Stuart's architectural commissions were for garden buildings.
Stuart's reputation as a man of learning and an authority on classical art and design enabled him to exploit the opportunities that arose in the flourishing market for town houses in the 18th century. Stuart also undertook several commissions that could be described as public works.
Much of Stuart’s fame rests on his role as author and illustrator of Antiquities of Athens: his reputation as an architect and designer has fluctuated with time and fashion.
In his designs for memorials and monuments Stuart used many of the traditional motifs of 18th-century funerary art. He was also one of the first designers to use low-relief portrait medallions in monuments instead of the more customary portrait busts.
From the late 1760s complaints began to surface about Stuart's increasingly chaotic business practices, which were possibly due to his chronic gout and deteriorating health.
Duration: 9min 10sec
This video focuses on Spencer House, one of the most significant commissions of James Stuart's career.
The copyright of this film is held by Spencer House Ltd. Reproduction of all or part of the contents of this film is prohibited.
Explore the work of James 'Athenian' Stuart online by visiting the buildings and institutions containing his interior decoration and furniture.
The V&A is running a series of gallery demonstrations, talks and a Study Day alongside the James 'Athenian' Stuart display.