About William Chambers, Sir
Sir William Chambers (23 February 1723 – 10 March 1796) was a Scottish architect, born in Gothenburg, Sweden, where his father was a merchant. Between 1740 and 1749 he was employed by the Swedish East India Company making several voyages to China where he studied Chinese architecture and decoration.
Returning to Europe, he studied architecture in Paris (with J. F. Blondel) and spent five years in Italy. Then, in 1755, he travelled to England and established an architectural practice in London. Through a recommendation of the 4th Earl of Bute in 1757 he was appointed architectural tutor to the Prince of Wales, later George III, and in 1766 also, with Robert Adam, Architect to the King, this was an unofficial title (not an actual salaried post with the Office of Works). He worked for Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales making fanciful garden buildings at Kew, and in 1757 he published a book of Chinese designs which had a significant influence on contemporary taste. He developed his Chinese interests further with his 'Dissertation on Oriental Gardening' (1772), a fanciful elaboration of contemporary English ideas about the naturalistic style of gardening in China.
The central courtyard of Chambers' Somerset House in London. The pavement fountain was installed in the 1990s. In 1759 his more serious and academic Treatise on Civil Architecture had an influence on builders; it went into several editions and was still being republished in 1826. His influence was transmitted also through a host of younger architects trained as pupils in his office, including Thomas Hardwick Junior (1752–1825) who helped build Somerset House with him and who wrote a biography of Chambers's life.
He was the major rival of Adam in British Neoclassicism. Chambers was more international in outlook (his knighthood being originally a Swedish honour) and was influenced by continental neoclassicism (which he in turn influenced) when designing for British clients. A second visit to Paris in 1774 confirmed the French cast to his sober and conservative refined blend of Neoclassicism and Palladian conventions.
In 1766, Chambers was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. From 1761 he held the unofficial post of Joint Architect to the King, he was then promoted to his first official post in the Office of Works and was from 1769-1782 Comptroller of the King's Works, his final promotion put him in charge, from 1782 being Surveyor-General and Comptroller a post he kept until his death.
On 10 December 1768 the Royal Academy was founded, Chambers played an important role in the events that lead up to the Academy's foundation, the Minutes of the General Assembly of the Royal Academy 14 December 1768 record 'That some time towards the latter end of November 1768, Mr Chambers waited upon the King and informed him that many artists of reputation together with himself are very desirous of establishing a Society that should more effectively promote the Arts of Design'. He was appointed the Academy's first Treasurer.
Chambers died in London in 1796. He is buried in the Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.