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In Search of Architecture: The Watercolour Albums of Thomas Graham Jackson RA At the Royal Academy,until 30 January


Thomas Graham Jackson was an architect more at home in the Royal Academy than the RIBA, writes Brian Edwards . His exceptional facility as an architectural draughtsman eclipsed his talents as a designer and though Jackson produced some fine buildings, such as the Examination Schools in Oxford (from 1876), it is as artist and author that he left his mark.

Jackson was well connected and had the means to travel both as a student at Wadham College, Oxford, and afterwards, under the encouragement of his Hampstead neighbour, the architect George Gilbert Scott. Like many of his generation Jackson tried his hand at all the decorative and applied arts, even entertaining the idea of making a career as a painter. But the drawings and watercolour sketches made on his 50 or so separate study visits to Europe and Asia were not mere private records but an archive able to inform his architectural designs. It is these sketchbook studies which form the backbone of this fascinating exhibition.

Jackson felt that architectural practice in the England was narrow and dogmatic compared with Europe. As the curator of the exhibition James Bettley explains, he was more at home with the kind of dynamic fusion of architecture, sculpture and painting found in the work of Bramante and Michelangelo. The many drawings on display show how Jackson used pen and coloured wash to study the structural as well as decorative properties of the Gothic and early Renaissance buildings in France, Italy and beyond. He announced to Scott that his travels had cured him o f 'medievalism', preferring instead the richness of 'judicious eclecticism'.

Such sentiments drew Jackson into influential circles at the Royal Academy and later at the Art Workers' Guild.

Elected an academician in 1896, he spent his final years travelling on the Orient Express, stopping off to sketch material for his books, such as Byzantine and Romanesque Architecture (1913) and a seven-volume sequence on Gothic and Renaissance architecture from England to Turkey. Although Jackson was no lightweight as an architect or restorer of ancient buildings (such as Winchester Cathedral), it is as one of the greatest architectural draughtsmen and scholars of his generation that he is best remembered. The sketches on show are testament to the power of drawings of existing buildings to inspire the architecture of the future.

Brian Edwards is professor of architecture at Edinburgh College of Art

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