Sydney Smirke RA

In talking about the Summer Exhibition last night, I realised how much of its quality and character derives from the scale and variety of the great exhibition galleries which were added to the back of Burlington House by Sydney Smirke, opening in 1868.   I had always thought, quite erroneously, that he was the son of Robert Smirke, the architect of the British Museum.   Wrong.   He was the son of Robert Smirke RA, an early student of the Royal Academy Schools, who had eight children, including Robert and Sydney (and Sir Edward, an archaeologist).   Sydney was trained in the office of his older brother and took over as project architect at the British Museum after his brother’s retirement in 1846, so was responsible for the construction, if not the design, of the round reading-room.   But he also undertook a host of other projects, including churches in Lancashire, large country houses and three St. James’s clubs – the Oxford and Cambridge (with Robert), the Conservative Club (with Basevi), and the Carlton (on his own).   A major, and rather underestimated, classical architect.


Sydney Smirke RA, Design for Gallery III, Burlington House, Piccadilly, Westminster, London: perspective of gallery looking east, c.1866-67.


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