Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Stuart, James (1713-1788)

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644853Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 55 — Stuart, James (1713-1788)1898Lionel Henry Cust

STUART, JAMES (1713–1788), painter and architect, often known as ‘Athenian Stuart,’ born in Creed Lane, Ludgate Street, London, in 1713, was the son of a mariner from Scotland, who died when Stuart was quite young, leaving a widow and two other children. Stuart, on whom the support of the family devolved, having shown an early taste for drawing, obtained employment in painting fans for Lewis Goupy [q. v.], the well-known fan-painter in the Strand. As many of Goupy's fans were decorated with views of classical buildings, Stuart's mind may have been thus first directed to the study of classical architecture. At the age of thirteen or fourteen he obtained a premium from the Society of Arts for a crayon portrait of himself. Besides acquiring some skill as a painter in gouache and watercolours, he was a diligent student of mathematics and geometry, and thus became a good draughtsman. After his mother's death, his brother and sister being provided for, Stuart effected a long-cherished project of going to Rome to pursue his studies in art. This he accomplished in 1741, travelling a great part of the way on foot, and earning money as best he could on the way. At Rome he became associated with Gavin Hamilton [q. v.], the painter, Matthew Brettingham [q. v.], the architect, and Nicholas Revett [q. v.] In April 1748 these four artists made a journey to Naples on foot, and it was during this journey that the project for visiting Athens, in order to take practical measurements of the remains of Greek architecture, was initiated. The idea seems to have originated with Hamilton and Revett, but was warmly taken up by Stuart, who had studied Latin and Greek in the College of Propaganda at Rome, and already written a treatise in Latin on the obelisk found in the Campus Martius. This Stuart published in 1750, with a dedication to Charles Wentworth, earl of Malton (afterwards Marquis of Rockingham), and through it obtained the honour of presentation to Pope Benedict XIV. In 1748 Stuart and Revett issued ‘Proposals for publishing an accurate Description of the Antiquities of Athens.’ Their scheme attracted the favour of the English dilettanti then resident in Rome, and with the help of some of them, notably the Earl of Malton, the Earl of Charlemont, James Dawkins, and Robert Wood, the explorers of Palmyra, and others, they were enabled to make their arrangements for proceeding to Athens. Stuart and Revett left Rome in March 1750, but were detained for some months in Venice. There they met and were encouraged by Sir James Gray, K.B., the British resident, who procured their election into the London ‘Dilettanti,’ and Joseph Smith (1682–1770), the British consul. Colonel George Gray, brother of Sir James, and secretary and treasurer to the Society of Dilettanti, printed and issued in London an edition of Stuart and Revett's ‘Proposals,’ and a further edition was issued by Consul Smith at Venice in 1753. During their detention at Venice Stuart and Revett visited the antiquities of Pola in Dalmatia. On 19 Jan. 1751 they embarked for Greece, and arrived on 18 March following at Athens. They at once set to work, Stuart making the general drawings in colour, and Revett supplying the accurate measurements. They remained at Athens until 5 March 1753, when the disorders resulting from Turkish rule compelled them to desist from their labours. Stuart, who desired to get their firmans renewed by the sultan, took the opportunity of the pasha who governed Athens being recalled to Constantinople to avail himself of his escort. He narrowly, however, escaped being murdered on more than one occasion, and with great difficulty made his way to the coast and rejoined Revett at Salonica. From thence they visited Smyrna and the islands of the Greek Archipelago, returning to England early in 1755. On their return they were warmly welcomed by the Society of Dilettanti, at whose board they now took their seats. Stuart and Revett at once set to work to arrange their notes and drawings for publication, and issued a fresh prospectus of their intended publication. They were assisted by many members of the Society of Dilettanti individually, as well as by the society as a body. The work did not, however, see the light until 1762, when a handsome volume was issued, entitled ‘The Antiquities of Athens measured and delineated by James Stuart, F.R.S. and F.S.A., and Nicholas Revett, Painters and Architects,’ with a dedication to the king. The book produced an extraordinary effect upon English society. The Society of Dilettanti had for some years been endeavouring to introduce a taste for classical architecture, and the publication of this work caused ‘Grecian Gusto’ to reign supreme. Under its influence the classical style in architecture was widely adopted both in London and the provinces, and maintained its predominance for the remainder of the century. The publication of Stuart and Revett's work may be said to be the commencement of the serious study of classical art and antiquities throughout Europe. Its publication had been anticipated by a somewhat similar work by a Frenchman, Julien David Le Roy, who had been in Rome in 1748, when the proposals of Stuart and Revett were first issued. Le Roy did not, however, visit Athens until 1754, after Stuart and Revett had completed their work there, and although by royal patronage and other help he succeeded in getting his book—‘Ruines des plus beaux Monuments de la Grèce’—published in 1758, it is in every way inferior to the work of Stuart and Revett. The views of Athenian antiquities, drawn for Lord Charlemont by Richard Dalton in 1749 and engraved by him, were not done from accurate and scientific measurements, so that Stuart and Revett may fairly claim to have been the pioneers of classical archæology.

The publication of the ‘Antiquities of Athens’ made Stuart famous, and he obtained the name of ‘Athenian’ Stuart. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. Although he exhibited for some years with the Free Society of Artists, sending chiefly worked-up specimens of his sketches in Greece, Stuart found the profession of architect in the new fashionable Grecian style more profitable. In this line he was employed by Earl Spencer, the Marquis of Rockingham, Lord Camden, Lord Eardley, Lord Anson, and others; Lord Anson's house in St. James's Square was perhaps the first building in the real Grecian style erected in London. Stuart became the recognised authority on classical art, and was referred to on all such matters as designing medals, monuments, &c. He continued one of the leading members of the Dilettanti, and in 1763 was appointed painter to the society, in the place of George Knapton [q. v.]; he did not, however, execute any work for the society, though he held the post until 1769, when he was succeeded by Sir Joshua Reynolds. For many years Stuart was engaged upon a second volume of the ‘Antiquities of Athens.’ A difficulty occurring with Revett, who resented the somewhat undue share of credit which Stuart had obtained for their work, Stuart bought all his rights in the work. The second volume was almost ready for press, and the drawings completed for a third volume, when the work was interrupted by Stuart's sudden death at his house in Leicester Square on 2 Feb. 1788. He was buried in the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. Stuart was twice married, but left surviving issue only by his second wife, Elizabeth.

The second volume of the ‘Antiquities of Athens’ was published by his widow in 1789, with the assistance of William Newton (1735–1790) [q. v.], who had been assistant to and succeeded Stuart in the post (obtained for Stuart by Anson) of surveyor to Greenwich Hospital. The third volume was not published until 1795, when it was edited by Willey Reveley [q. v.] In 1814 a fourth volume was issued, edited by Joseph Woods, containing miscellaneous papers and drawings by Stuart and Revett, and the results of their researches at Pola. A supplementary volume was published in 1830 by Charles Robert Cockerell [q. v.], R.A., and other architects. A second edition of the first three volumes on a reduced scale was published in 1825–30, and a third edition, still further reduced in size, in 1841, for Bohn's ‘IIlustrated Library.’

Miniature portraits of Stuart and his second wife were presented to the National Portrait Gallery in November 1858 by his son, Lieutenant James Stuart, R.N.

[Biography prefixed to vol. iv. of the Athenian Antiquities; Hamilton's Historical Notices of the Soc. of Dilettanti; Cust and Colvin's Hist. of the Society of Dilettanti, 1897; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; Michaelis's Ancient Marbles in Great Britain; Stuart's own Works.]

L. C.