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Charles Cameron (architect)

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Charles Cameron (architect)

Charles Cameron
Born 1745
Died 19 March 1812
Saint Petersburg
Nationality Scotland
Occupation Architect
Buildings Main palace in Pavlovsk
Cameron's Gallery and Cold Baths in Tsarskoye Selo
Projects Parks of Pavlovsk, Sophia and Tsarskoye Selo

Charles Cameron (1745 – 19 March 1812) was a Scottish architect who made an illustrious career at the court of Catherine II of Russia. Cameron, practitioner of early neoclassical architecture, was the chief architect of Tsarskoye Selo and Pavlovsk palaces and the adjacent new town of Sophia from his arrival in Russia in 1779 to Catherine's death in 1796. All his indisputable tangible works "can be encompassed in a day's tour";[1] Cameron concentrated exclusively on country palaces and landscape gardens. Twice dismissed by Paul of Russia during the Battle of the Palaces, Cameron enjoyed a brief revival of his career under Alexander I in 1803–1805. Apart from the well-researched Catherinian period (1779–1796), Cameron's life story remains poorly documented, not in the least due to Cameron's own efforts to shake off the bad reputation he had earned in the 1770s in London.

Cameron's British neoclassicism was an isolated episode in Russian architecture, then dominated by Italian artists ([2] Howard Colvin ranked Cameron "one of the major urban architects of the eighteenth century ... an accomplished designer and decorator in a neoclassical style that has affinities with that of Robert Adam. His style is sufficiently individual to exonerate him from the imputation of being merely an imitator...[3] Although still a Palladian, Cameron was a pioneer of Greek Revival in Russia."[4]

Early career

Charles Cameron was the son of Walter Cameron, a London carpenter, speculative builder[5] and a member of the London Carpenter's Company.[6] He claimed descent from the Camerons of Lochiel, a Scottish clan deeply involved in the Jacobite rising of 1745.[3] Cameron used the Lochiel coat of arms for his personal bookplate, although modern researchers since David Talbot Rice question or deny his claims for Lochiel lineage.[7][8][9] Researchers also disagree on the exact year of Cameron's birth, which may be either 1743, 1745 or 1746.[8]

Cameron trained in London with his father and with the architect Isaac Ware. After Ware's death in 1766 Cameron settled on continuing his late master's work on a new edition of Lord Burlington's Fabbriche Antiche, a project that required personal studies and surveys of ancient Roman architecture.[6] He spent 1767 in London, preparing prints of works by Andrea Palladio, and arrived in Rome in 1768.[6] There, he surveyed the Baths of Titus and Nero's Domus Aurea, digging into subterranean remains that were rediscovered only in the 20th century.[6] According to Dmitry Shvidkovsky, Cameron met in Rome with another Charles Cameron, a Jacobite and a true member of the Lochiel clan, and "borrowed" the life story of the latter to embellish his own.[5] Cameron returned from Italy around 1769 and published the results of his studies in 1772 (reissues 1774, 1775) under the title The Baths of the Romans explained and illustrated... with proper scientific commentaries in English and French.[6]

Cameron's life between 1769 and his departure to Russia in 1779 remains barely known.[6] Archives attest to his involvement in only one construction contract in London, for an Adam style building in Hanover Square[6] (1770–1775).[5] Walter Cameron, the main contractor, was ruined by litigation with the property owner and had to sell his son's art collection to raise funds. Charles sued his father, who was jailed in Fleet Prison for debt.[3][5] In 1791, when Cameron applied for a membership in the Architect's Club of London, he was barred admission due to this and other episodes that had stained his reputation in England.[3][5]

Arrival in Russia

Cameron's draft for the dining room in Catherine Palace

Catherine's tastes in architecture evolved from Rococo and Gothic Revival architecture in the first decade of her reign to emerging Neoclassicism in the 1780s. She leaned to French variety of neoclassicism (Clerisseau, Ledoux) mixed with ancient Roman motifs. Catherine, perhaps the first of European monarchs, realized that the emerging style had the potential to become a definitive form of imperial art. She spared no expense in hiring foreign architects and craftsmen trained in the neoclassical manner. She instructed Baron Melchior Grimm, her European agent in matters of art and antiques, to hire Italian architects because "the Frenchmen we have here know too much and build dreadful houses – because they know too much."[10][11] These Italians, Giacomo Quarenghi and the relatively unknown Giacomo Trombara, arrived in Russia after Cameron.[2]

Cameron arrived in Russia in 1779, also invited by Catherine's agents.[3] Exact details of Cameron's hire remain vague,[5] but on 23 August 1779 an enthusiastic Catherine wrote to Grimm that "At present I am very taken with Mr. Cameron, a Scot by nationality and a Jacobite, great draughtsman, well versed in antique monuments and well known for his book on the Baths of Rome. At the moment we are making a garden with him on a terrace..."[12] Catherine also wrote that Cameron was raised at the Roman court of the Pretender and that he was a nephew of Jean Cameron of Glen Dessary reflecting a new "romanticized" persona that Cameron assumed in Russia.[5] Cameron settled first in Chernyshev House in Saint Petersburg but soon moved to his own house in Tsarskoye Selo; it was later taken from him by emperor Paul.[2]

Cameron, a Londoner, had no practical experience in landscaping prior to 1779.[13] Peter Hayden suggested that Cameron learned the trade from his father-in-law, John Bush (or Busch),[14] who worked in Tsarskoye Selo since 1771.[15]

Tsarskoye Selo

The Agate Pavilion. "At Tsarskoye Selo Cameron produced some of the most exquisitevely elegant neoclassical interiors in eighteenth-century Europe" - Howard Colvin[3]

Cameron's career in Russia started with expansion of the Chinese Village in Tsarskoye Selo park, borrowing design ideas from William Chambers.[2] The theatre of Chinese Village had already been in place, designed by Antonio Rinaldi and Ivan Neelov;[16] Cameron's undisputed additions are the living quarters of the Village and the Chinese Bridges over the canal.[16] During Paul's reign Cameron's buildings were stripped of exterior finishes and later rebuilt by Vasily Stasov in 1817.[16]

In 1780–1784 he redecorated the formerly Rococo halls of the main Catherine Palace built by Bartolomeo Rastrelli in the 1750s;[2] what started as a modest remodelling soon resulted in the most lavish interiors of the whole palace, reminiscent of Palladio, Raphael, Robert Adam and Clerisseau yet blending into Cameron's unmistakingly own style.[2] As early as 22 June 1771 Catherine praised the architect: "There are not yet but two rooms to do and there one rushes, because just here one sees nothing to equal it. I confess that I myself will not tire during nine weeks of watching this."[17]

Cameron's Gallery

Catherine had another specific task for Cameron: she envisaged a new, relatively modest Neoclassical building in Tsarskoye Selo near the older Rococo Catherine Palace. Clerisseau, Catherine's first choice, produced drafts for a gigantic and expensive Roman structure based on the Baths of Diocletian,[18] that were rejected out of hand[19] but later influenced Quarenghi and Cameron. In 1782 Cameron started his first standalone building, the Cold Baths, a two-story bathhouse in mixed Italian-Greek classicism with luxurious interiors (notably the Agate Pavilion).[17] In 1784–1787[20] it was expanded with a two-story gallery (Cameron's Gallery), mixing natural stone Roman ground floor with a lightweight, snow-white upper floor gallery marked with unusually wide spacing between columns.[21] The gallery, adorned with statues of foreign poets and philosophers, became Catherine's favourite promenade for years. It was flanked with a formal garden on one side and an English landscape park on the other.[9]

In the beginning of the Gallery project Cameron himself acted as Catherine's recruiter, hiring fellow Scotsmen to work in Tsarskoye Selo. 73 craftsmen, including William Heste and Adam Menelaws,[3][22] agreed to move to Russia (many took their families with them), causing a futile protest of the Foreign Office.[22] The number was too high for Cameron, and the Scots eventually dispersed to other projects; Menelaws became assistant to Nikolay Lvov.[23][24]


Sophia Ascencion cathedral near Tsarskoye Selo was built as an allegory of Hagia Sofia. It is attributed jointly to Cameron and Ivan Starov.

Sophia, a model town, was built near Tsarskoye Selo to Cameron's plan. It was designed to be viewed from the walkways of Cameron's Gallery and represent Constantinople, the coveted target of Catherine's Greek project; the name of the town and its cathedral clearly alluded to Hagia Sophia.[25] Catherine decreed that the streets of Sofia must blend with the roads of Tsarskoye Selo park.[25] Cameron arranged the streets to make an impression that they all radiate from the Gallery.[25] The streets were brightly lit at night when Catherine was present at Tsarskoye.

More historical allegories were scattered in the park: the lake with Rinaldi's rostral column represented the Black Sea;[25] Doric ruins symbolized the former might of Ancient Greece.[26] These follies, scattered along the road to Catherine Palace, doubled as the setting for triumphant procession for visiting dignitaries.[26]

Peter Hayden drew parallels between Cameron's landscaping in Sophia with that of Stowe House park, notably the similarity between Cameron's Temple of Memory and the Temple of Concord and Victory built at Stowe by an unknown architect in the 1740s.[27] Another direct quote from Stowe is the Pyramid Tomb over the grave of Catherine's three Italian greyhounds; it survived to date but the Temple of Memory was razed by Paul of Russia in 1797.[27]


Pavlovsk Palace, end of 19th century

Pavlovsk, the largest landscape park in 18th century Russia (1,500 acres),[28] is attributed to a succession of architects, starting with Cameron and ending with Carlo Rossi.[28] Cameron built the original palace core that survives to date, the Temple of Friendship, Private Gardens, Aviary, Apollo Colonnade and the Lime Avenue and planned the original landscape, but true authorship of Pavlovsk as a whole should be credited to empress Maria Feodorovna.[28][29]

The Temple of Friendship was the first building in Pavlovsk, followed by the main palace.[28] Cameron's Pavlovsk was far from Paul's vision of what an imperial residence should be: it lacked moats, forts and all other military paraphernalia so dear to Paul; "Cameron created a markedly private world for the Grand Duke. The palace could have belonged to anyone... not to the tsar of Russia in waiting."[30]

Conflicts between Cameron and Paul and Maria date back to the couple's Grand Tour of Europe (1781–1782). Maria complained about Cameron's delays since 1782.[13] Constrained financially, Paul and Maria closely watched Cameron's progress and regularly curbed his far-reaching, expensive plans. Cameron also displayed signs of aversion to their management since 1782, but court intermediaries downplayed the conflict for a while. By 1785 it became public: Cameron quarreled with Paul over costs of Pavlovsk[3] and Paul himself detested Cameron as Catherine's agent.[31] Between 1786 and 1789[32] Cameron's duties in Pavlovsk passed to an Italian, Vincenzo Brenna, hired by Paul in 1782. Dismissed by Paul, Cameron continued working on Catherine's own projects until her death in 1796.


Upon ascension to power in 1796, Paul fired Cameron from all his contracts and deprived him of his house in Tsarskoye.[2][3] Cameron experienced financial difficulties and had to sell his collection of books to Baturyn Palace of count Kirill Razumovsky;[2] according to contemporary researchers, Baturyn was a collaborative effort led by Nikolay Lvov and Cameron's involvement cannot be reliably measured.[3]

Lukomsky also wrote that in 1800–1801 Cameron temporarily left Russia for England;[2] according to Colvin, this opinion is unsubstantiated:[3] in 1800–1801 Cameron worked in Pavlovsk, then owned by Maria Fyodorovna, where he built the Ionic Pavilion of Three Graces.[3]

Alexander, who succeeded Paul in March 1801, appointed Cameron the chief architect of the Russian Admiralty[3] During this brief (1802–1805) employment Cameron designed the Naval Hospital in Oranienbaum and two[33] unrealized drafts for the Naval Cathedral in Kronstadt.[3] He also worked in Pavlovsk, restoring the palace after a fire.[2] In 1805 Cameron finally retired; his tenure at the Admiralty passed to Andreyan Zakharov.[2][3] Lukomsky noted that Cameron, who once executed Catherine's soaring dreams, was hardly interested in building barracks and repairing gateways.[2]

The palace and park ensemble Hetman Kirill Razumovsky in Baturyn (Ukraine 2011)

Private life

Cameron's personality remains a "shadowy figure":[33] being "proud, aloof and difficult",[33] he had a talent for alienating people. He did not participate in the social life of the English diaspora in Saint Petersburg; he had few Russian friends,[33] did not speak Russian and was disliked for his attitude of "English superiority".[34]

In 1784 Cameron married Catherine Bush, daughter of the imperial gardener John Bush.[35] They had a daughter, Mary, however, her birth has not been evidenced by church records.[33] Mary Cameron, engaged to James Grange, left Russia in 1798.[1] Grange returned to Russia in 1803, and, according to Anthony Cross, could have helped Cameron's career revival in 1803–1805.[1] By 1839 the Granges had seven surviving children.[1]

During retirement Cameron and his wife lived in Paul's favourite palace, Saint Michael's Castle.[33] The redundant and still incomplete castle was converted to living quarters and housed up to 900 residents, including the Camerons and future field marshal Diebitsh.[36] Cameron died in 1812, before Napoleon's invasion of Russia; his widow secured a pension from the Russian Government,[3] sold Cameron's library[2] and either returned to England[3] or died in Saint Petersburg.[33]

References and notes

  1. ^ a b c d Cross 1997, p. 297
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Lukomsky 1943, part 1
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Colvin 2008, p. 212
  4. ^ Colvin 2008, p. 213
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Cross 1997 p. 287
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Colvin 2008, p. 211
  7. ^ David Talbot Rice in his 1943 Introduction described the appearance of a modified Lochiel emblem used by Cameron and noted that "No Charles Cameron who went to Russia is, however, known in the records of the family. On the other hand, a certain Dr. Archibald Cameron had a number of sons, three of whom do not figure in the history of the family at home, and it is possible that Charles was one of these."
  8. ^ a b Cross 1997, p. 286
  9. ^ a b Hayden 2005, p. 90
  10. ^ Shvidkovsky 2007, p. 257
  11. ^ Lukomsky 1943, part 1, cites the same fragment in the original French language.
  12. ^ English translation as in Shvidkovsky 2007, p. 258; see also English rendition in Lukomsky 1943, part I. Cross 1997 p. 286 and p. Colvin, p. 212, provide the same fragment of the original letter in French.
  13. ^ a b Hayden 2005, p. 117
  14. ^ Hayden 2005, p. 117. Hayden spells the surname Busch; Cross and Shvidkovsky spell it Bush.
  15. ^ Hayden 2005, p. 84
  16. ^ a b c Hayden 2005, p. 89
  17. ^ a b Lukomsky 1943, part 2
  18. ^
  19. ^ Cross 1997, p. 288
  20. ^ Lukomsky 1943, part 2, states years of completion 1783–1785
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b Kuznetsov 1998, p. 213
  23. ^ Cross, 1997 p. 298
  24. ^ Hayden 2005, p.98
  25. ^ a b c d Hayden 2005, p. 92
  26. ^ a b Hayden 2005, p. 93
  27. ^ a b Hayden 2005, p. 94
  28. ^ a b c d Hayden 2005, p. 110
  29. ^ Hayden 2005, pp. 117-118, provides examples of Maria's 1782 instructions implemented through courtiers Baron Nicolay and Baron Kuchelbecker.
  30. ^ Shvidkovsky 2007, p. 281
  31. ^ Shvidkovsky 2007, p. 282
  32. ^ Shvidkovsky 2007, p. 284 and Hayden 2005, p. 120 date the year of Brenna's takeover as 1786. According to Lanceray, Cameron's influence in Pavlovsk lasted until 1789.
  33. ^ a b c d e f g Cross, p. 296
  34. ^ Lukomsky 1943, part 1: "nor did he find the same sympathy among his colleagues and collaborators. This was perhaps due to his ignorance of the language, or to what may have been taken as an attitude of "English superiority."
  35. ^ Cross 1997, p. 296. Hayden 2005, pp. 84-92, spells the same name as John Busch.
  36. ^ Lanceray 2006, p. 146


Biographies of Cameron

The first comprehensive English biography of Cameron was written by Russian neoclassical revival school, and published in 1943 in England with introduction by David Talbot Rice. Nikolay Lanceray had compiled substantial material on Cameron earlier, in the 1920s. It was lost after his arrest, apart from the fragments used in his book on Vincenzo Brenna, first printed in 2006. In the last quarter of the 20th century Anthony Glenn Cross researched Cameron's life as part of the British diaspora in Saint Petersburg and tracked his family connections; John Martin Robinson contributed studies of Cameron's early career in England. A definitive modern biography of Cameron, The empress and the architect, was published by Dmitry Shvidkovsky in English in 1996 (most recent Russian edition: 2008). Cameron's concise biography in the fourth edition of Howard Colvin's Biographical Dictionary of British Architects cites all the English sources listed above.

  • Also includes:

Biographies of contemporary artists

  • Also includes:
    • Vityazeva, V. A., Modzalevskaya, M. A. (2006, in Russian) Istorik russkoy arhitektury Nikolay Lanceray (Историк русской культуры Николай Лансере)

Books on Russian architecture

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