Until 25 May 2008
In the Tennant Room
Norman Shaw changed the face of English architecture in the last third of the 19th century.
Richard Norman Shaw RA, Design for New Zealand Chambers, 1873 Pen with black ink on wove paper, 938 X 500 mm © Royal Academy of Arts, LondonWorking in the spirit of local vernacular building traditions rather than to the letter of textbook historicism, he paved the way for the so-called free-style of the Arts and Crafts movement in the 1890s. His domestic and mercantile work in particular touched with unerring instinct the Victorian imagination, creating homes and offices that were not only eminently well-planned for their owners to live and work in but were also buildings to which the man in the street could feel an emotional tie.
Although born in Edinburgh to an Irish father and Scottish mother, probably no other architect since Wren can claim to have defined more clearly for his time the Englishness of English architecture. Many people have remarked on the nautical flavour of some of Shaw’s finest buildings. Half-timbered walls and gables, mullioned windows, sweeping roofs and high chimneystacks all symbolise home’s promise of shelter and the light and warmth of the hearth. In a seafaring nation however they also stir a folk memory of the wooden hulls, poop decks and towering masts and sails of the great ships upon which England’s commercial prosperity had always depended, and in the operation of which Shaw’s brother was directly involved as a partner in the shipping line Shaw Savill & Co.
Developers of suburban housing have endlessly recycled the shadow of Shaw’s redefinition of English architecture well into our own day, to the point of parody and beyond. However to gain a sense of the impact that Shaw wanted his best work to have on posterity one need look no further than the magnificent series of pen-and-ink perspectives that he put into the Academy’s annual exhibition in the 1870s and ’80s. A selection of these, nearly all in his own hand, forms the core of this display, which is drawn almost entirely from the large collection of Shaw’s office drawings bequeathed to the Royal Academy by the architect’s son in 1959.
The Tennant Room is one of the John Madejski Fine Rooms
1pm-4.30pm Tuesday to Friday
10am-6pm Saturday and Sunday
Richard Norman Shaw's contribution to London architecture was explored in a lecture on 25 February as part of the series The Architects Who Made London with Maxwell Hutchinson.
To read more about this lecture and download an audio recording, click here