Enlightening technique uncovers lost Adam drawings after 170 years

THOUSANDS of drawings by the world-renowned Scottish architect Robert Adam have been uncovered for the first time in almost two centuries.

About 9,000 of Adam's designs were glued into 57 albums by his relatives to make them easier to sell after the family fell on hard times. In doing so, drawings on the back were lost for more than 170 years.

Now, using a technique developed for examining old watermarks, an academic, Dr Ian Christie-Miller, has been able to see through the paper and reveal the hidden image.

The albums were bought by Sir John Soane in 1833 for 200 and are kept at his house in London, which is now Sir John Soane's Museum. Staff there had considered trying to lift the paper out of the albums, but were concerned about the risk of damage.

Stephen Astley, the drawing curator at the museum, said that when Adam was in Italy in the mid-1750s, he tended to use both sides of paper when making drawings of Roman ruins that inspired his neo-classical style.

"Robert writes home that good paper and art materials are hard to find - so he used both sides of the page," he said.

"Sometimes it's not drawings; sometimes it's the back of letters, bills or prints. When the inspiration struck, the great man had to draw and he tended to use what he had.

"A lot of the sketches in Robert's hand have things on the back of the paper and they are pretty firmly stuck down, but lifting 18th-century drawings is major surgery and if we can do something non- invasively, so much the better."

One revealed image is of a concert hall and ballroom, which has a Chambre de Livres de Musique and a Chambre pour le T et les Jeux, according to handwritten annotations.

To see through the paper, Dr Christie-Miller used a sheet of material 1mm thick, containing chemicals that produce a bright, cool light when an electric current is passed through it. A computer program then stripped out the image on the front.

Rebecca Bailey, an architectural historian at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, said: "It would be safe to say this is a very significant discovery of huge interest to architectural historians around the world."

John Lowrey, a senior lecturer in Scottish architecture at Edinburgh University, added:

"The concert hall is a fascinating plan and shows Adam's obsession with complex plan forms derived from Roman baths, with its emphasis on screened spaces."

ADAM STYLE

KIRKCALDY-born Robert Adam, who lived from 1728 to 1792, designed many of the great buildings of the time along with his brother James, and popularised neo-classical architecture, sometimes known as the "Adam style". Notable Adam projects include:

• Culzean Castle in Ayrshire

• Paxton House near Berwick-upon-Tweed

• Charlotte Square, north side, in Edinburgh

• Edinburgh University Old College

• Kedleston Hall, near Derby

• Register House, Edinburgh