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Critic's Choice - Robert Adam

There are still surprises in Robert Adam’s work, says Andrew Mead

You might think there was little left to learn about a figure so well studied and documented as Robert Adam, but that’s not the case. At a fascinating World Monuments Fund (WMF) lecture in London on 21 November, conservator Richard Ireland presented his findings on Adam’s decorative schemes at Headfort House, Co. Meath, Ireland. He focused on the Eating Room – a grand double-height space – where all his preconceptions about the original scheme, now overlain by several later coats of paint, were challenged. He said: ‘I couldn’t presume at any point. There was a huge amount of working out to do.’ What Ireland reconstructed was a much flatter and less ‘architectural’ scheme than he’d anticipated, which – as historian Eileen Harris, author of a study of Adam interiors, points out – gives Adam scholars food for thought, because no other interiors by him have been investigated as minutely as this. If they were, what would we find?

The WMF hopes to contribute to a restoration of Headfort’s key rooms in due course. Meanwhile, an earlier WMF restoration project is the subject of a new book from publisher Scala, Brancusi’s Endless Column Ensemble (£8.95). Constructed in 1937 in the Romanian town of Târgu Jiu, the column – with its brass-and-zinc clad cast-iron rhomboids surging skywards – is part of an ensemble of works that includes the travertine Table of Silence (see below). They’re as much landscape architecture as sculpture and are thoroughly explored in Scala’s attractive book.

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