Frances Sands gave a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Thursday, January 26, 2017 at 12:15 pm. Her talk was entitled “My Late Friend Mr. Robert Adam.”


Frances Sands is Curator of Drawings and Books at Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. In this role she is responsible for the Soane’s library collection of 30,000 architectural drawings and 7,000 volumes, along with the Soane Museum research library, and collaborative doctoral award students. She is also involved in the Museum’s program of exhibitions, including the current exhibition, Robert Adam’s London, for which she was curator and author of the accompanying book. Prior to this she was Catalogue Editor at the Soane Museum with responsibility to catalogue the 8,000-strong Adam drawings collection for online publication. She received her PhD from the University of York, where her thesis comprised a study of the construction history of Nostell Priory in West Yorkshire. Since 2010 she has served as a Trustee for the York Georgian Society, the Mausolea and Monuments Trust, and the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain.

The eighteenth-century Scottish architect Robert Adam is remembered as a pioneer of neo-classicism in Britain. Following a Grand Tour in 1754–58—which included a five-week sojourn in Dalmatia—Adam established one of the most successful and prolific architectural offices in Georgian London. Catering to a huge clientele, ranging from shop owners to the King, Adam became famous for his colorful and intricate interior decorative schemes. Unlike many of his archaeologically dogmatic contemporaries, Adam suffered no creative timidity with regard to the classical repertoire. Utilizing a formidable arsenal of decorative motifs, he blended all he had seen abroad with pre-existing British fashions in order to create some of the most admired designs for eighteenth-century ceilings, wall panels, chimneypieces, furniture, carpets, and silverware. Despite numerous imitators, Adam’s style fell from grace immediately after his death in 1792. Having lost their breadwinner, the Adam family suffered financially and sold all they could. However, the surviving office drawings collection garnered no interest. Now outmoded and not yet old enough to be of any antiquarian interest, the family failed to sell the drawings until forty-one years after Adam’s death, when in 1833 they were purchased by Sir John Soane for his ‘academy of architecture’ in London. Here they survive—comprising over eighty percent of the known corpus of Adam drawings—and facilitate both research and essential conservation to what remains of Adam’s buildings. In this talk, Sands will address the role of drawings in Adam’s practice, exploring the particular skills with which Robert Adam developed his interior designs, as well as tracing the subsequent history of the drawings collection.