Basic Biographical Details

Name: Charles Cameron
Designation: Architect
Born: 1 June 1745
Died: 19 March 1812
Bio Notes: Charles Cameron was born on 1 June 1745, the son of Walter Cameron, a master carpenter and speculative builder whose family came from Scotland and who had established himself in London, and his wife Hannah. His grandfather Archibald Cameron came from Edinburgh. Walter Cameron was closely connected to one of the main figures of the Jacobite rising of 1745, Dr Archibald Cameron, whom he visited in prison before his execution in 1753. The young Cameron, who was probably named after the Young Pretender, was apprenticed to his father in 1760. About 1764 Charles Cameron developed different interests. An album of 100 drawings consists of images of vases, plates and silverwork in a variety of styles, although near the end of the album he showed a preference for the classical style. The young Cameron moved to the office of Isaac Ware who, like Walter Cameron, was a member of the London Carpenters’ Company. Ware may have recognised that the younger Cameron was a talented draughtsman.

Isaac Ware died in 1766 and Cameron carried on with a project begun in the office, namely the production of a new edition of Lord Burlington’s ‘Fabbriche Antiche’. Cameron decided to go to Rome to correct and complete the drawings by Palladio of Roman baths, which lacked accuracy and completeness which Ware had used in the preparation of his book. He exhibited some proofs of the plates at the Royal Academy in 1767. By the following year he had travelled to Rome and was examining and drawing the original structures in an archaeological way. He made a survey of the ‘Baths of Titus’ (actually the Baths of Trajan) and he saw into some parts of the Golden House of Nero beneath the Baths which were not re-discovered until the early 20th century.While in Rome, Cameron may have met the French architectural draughtsman, Charles Louis Clérisseau. But it is more likely that he met him when Clérisseau was in England in 1771. Certainly he socialised with Jacobites while in Rome.

Cameron returned from Italy in 1769. The book was published in 1772. The title was ‘The Baths of the Romans explained and illustrated, with the Restorations of Palladio corrected and improved’. The text appeared in both English and French. It was intended to serve as a text-book of neo-classical design and ornament which function it did fulfil. It was dedicated to Lord Bute whose patronage Cameron hoped to secure. It was re-issued in 1774 and 1775. The book was a model of Enlightenment scholarship and had a strong neo-classical bias.

It is not yet apparent what Cameron then did apart from exhibiting some drawings at the Society of Artists in 1772. In 1774 he applied for one of the new district surveyorships in Middlesex. However he was absent when he was supposed to be interviewed for the post. Where he was at this time is not yet clear. The following year, 1775, he published two etchings, one of a silver vessel found in Rome, and the other of a design for a shell-shaped vessel by Giulio Romano (Yale Centre for British Art). There is evidence of one architectural project with which he was involved, that is a house at number 15 Hanover Square, London. The house was built by his father and other for Jervoise Clarke and the younger Cameron signed an account (‘Charles Cameron Architectus’) for marble statuary supplied by Thomas Carter. Carter was one of the people who sponsored Cameron’s application for the district surveyorship. A design for a ceiling, probably also for this house, is at the Soane Museum.

However all did not go well after this for the Camerons. The outcome of litigation between Jervoise Clarke and the older Cameron was to Cameron’s disadvantage. To raise money Walter Cameron then sold his son’s books, prints, busts and pictures which according to Charles Cameron were worth £1500. Charles took his father to court and the result was that Walter Cameron was imprisoned. Along with the story of an affair with one of Isaac Ware’s daughters, slurred the younger Cameron’s reputation. The memory of this lasted many years and in 1791 he was refused membership of the recently formed Architects’ Club.

It seems likely that Cameron was invited to go to Russia to work for Empress Catherine of Russia. His book would have made his name known abroad and Catherine was keen to patronise artists from Western Europe. By 1779 he was in Russia and was described by Catherine as ‘Mr Cameron, écossais de nation, Jacobite de profession, grand dessinateur, nourri d’antiquités, connu par un livre sur les bains romains’. For the rest of his life Cameron was a court architect in Russia.

However his career there was not all plain sailing. He was paid well but the native workmen were not as skilled as he might wish and he was at a disadvantage in not speaking Russian. In 1784 he arranged for Scottish craftsmen to go to Russia, the most important being William Hastie and Adam Menelaws.

Cameron’s main works for Catherine were additions (including the Cold Baths, the Agate Pavilion, what is known as ‘the Cameron Gallery’, a hanging garden and other buildings later demolished) to the Palace of Tsarkoe Selo near St Petersburg. He also completed the Chinese ensemble in the park, the largest in 18th century Europe. He also built the nearby model town of Sofia as part of the landscaping of the park, now also largely demolished with the exception of the Cathedral, and the palace and village of Pavlovsk for the Grand Duke Paul, 1782-6. These buildings together form a huge urban complex, much of which was later destroyed. Cameron also made alterations to the Empress’s palace in the Crimea, Bakhtchi-Serai, probably in connection with her visit there in 1787. In 1793 J L Bond exhibited a drawing of a triumphal arch by Charles Cameron at the Royal Academy. This was probably the one at Bakhtchi-Serai. Cameron also drew up designs for another arch and a gallery to be built at Gatchina, but Catherine died before either had been built.

Catherine’s successor Emperor Paul dismissed Cameron with whom he had already quarrelled about the cost of work at Pavlovsk because he was determined to reverse his mother’s policies. Cameron lost both his job and his house and in financial straits he may have returned to England. By 1800 he was back in Pavlovsk where he designed a fine Ionic Pavilion of the Three Graces for the Empress Marie-Feodorovna. In 1803 he was given the post of architect to the admiralty by Emperor Alexander I. In this capacity he designed a number of buildings such as the naval hospital at Oranienbaum 1803-5 which was still at the design stage when he was dismissed in 1805. Some sources say he left the admiralty post to resume his role as the emperor’s private architect. In 1784 he had married the daughter of the British head gardener of Tsarskoe Selo. He remained in Russia and died in St Petersburg on 26 March 1812 at his home, Ingeneering Castle. His widow sold his books and drawings.

Colvin considers Cameron to have been one of the major urban architects of the 18th century. He was also a fine designer and decorator with affinities to the work of the Adams though individualistic and therefore not merely an imitator. Like Adam he made detailed designs for the furniture for his buildings. His interiors are among the best in Europe of the 18th century and the way in which he used colour in the materials is particularly fine. He pioneered the Greek Revival in Russia in particular the Greek Doric Temple of Friendship, 1780, at Pavlovsk. He used the publications of Stuart & Revett as his sources. The dome of the Cathedral of St Sophia was the earliest example of the Byzantine revival style in Russia. Cameron also encouraged the Chinese taste in Russia inspired by the work of Sir William Chambers. He combined an enthusiasm for the archaeology of antiquity with a firm grasp of English Palladianism.

The main collections of Cameron’s drawings are in the Hermitage, the Academy of Fine Arts museums and the library of the Institute of Railway Engineers all in St Petersburg and the Museum of Pavlovsk and the Museum of Architecture both in Moscow.

Private and Business Addresses

The following private or business addresses are associated with this architect:
 AddressTypeDate fromDate toNotes
Item 1 of 2London, EnglandPrivate/business   
Item 2 of 2RussiaPrivate/business17791812 

Employment and Training

Employers

The following individuals or organisations employed or trained this architect (click on an item to view details):
 NameDate fromDate toPositionNotes
Item 1 of 2Isaac Ware1760s Apprentice 
Item 2 of 2Walter Cameron1760 Apprentice 

References

Bibliographic References

The following books contain references to this architect:
 Author(s)DateTitlePartPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 2Colvin, Howard2008A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840 London: YUP. 4th edition 
Item 2 of 2DNB Dictionary of National Biography  Article by Dimitry Shvidkovsky.

Periodical References

The following periodicals contain references to this architect:
 Periodical NameDateEditionPublisherNotes
Item 1 of 5AA Files1981i 1981-2. 'Cameron and the Beginning of Neo-Classicism in Russia' by A A Tait.
Item 2 of 5ApolloJanuary 1992   
Item 3 of 5Architectural History199336  
Item 4 of 5Architectural ReviewDecember 1982  'Cameron re-discovered' by Dmitri Shvidkovski
Item 5 of 5Country Life16 November 1989