London’s Burlington House

© Cheryl Bolen

Burlington House, located on London’s busy Piccadilly near the Piccadilly Circus, is now seen by thousands who view exhibits there of the Royal Academy.

But the former aristocratic home is significantly altered from what it was when Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington, engaged Scottish architect Colen Campbell to redesign it in 1718 when the earl was 26. Indeed, the earl’s home significantly altered the previous home there, built in 1667 by the 1st Earl of Burlington. The 1st earl engaged William Kent to design the baroque interiors, some of which remain today.

During the 1st earl’s lifetime, Burlington House was a hub for artists, including Handel, who reportedly lived there for three years, Swift, and Pope.

The 3rd earl succeeded at age 10. (See my previous blogs on the 3rd Earl of Burlington in “Chiswick House: Quintessentially Georgian” https://cherylsregencyramblings.wordpress.com/?s=chiswick+house and “The Grand Tour” https://cherylsregencyramblings.wordpress.com/?s=the+grand+tour.)

Campbell was heavily influenced by Italian Andrea Palladio—whom the earl also came to emulate when he designed his Chiswick House as a Thames-side villa.

This is a view of Burlington House from Piccadilly as it looked in the lifetime of the 3rd Earl of Burlington

This is a view of Burlington House from Piccadilly as it looked in the lifetime of the 3rd Earl of Burlington

Burlington House was one of a handful of London residences that were constructed on large plots of land with outbuildings. (I’ve previously blogged on Devonshire House and Albany, both located on Piccadilly near Burlington Houston, and both of which were on large plots set back from the street.) The main house is some distance away from the Victorian archway into the forecourt in front of the house.

Campbell’s Palladian main house remains today, but a third story was added in Victorian times. Also added in Victorian times was the building, centered by a huge open arch, which lines the sidewalk on Piccadilly. This building houses the various “learned societies” which occupy the site and is not open to the public.

The earl’s estate passed to his grandson, the Duke of Devonshire, who never resided there. In 1815, the 6th Duke of Devonshire sold Burlington House to his uncle Lord George Cavendish, and Lord George built the adjacent Burlington Arcade (see my previous blog).

In 1854, the property was sold for £140,000 to the British government, which eventually leased it to the Royal Academy for 999 years. It also was chosen to house five “learned societies.”

Burlington House today (now the Royal Academy), note the third floor added in Georgian times

Burlington House today (now the Royal Academy), note the third floor added in Victorian times

The main house’s John Medejski Fine Rooms, often open free to the public, were restored in 2004 to what they would have looked like when The Earls of Burlington lived there. I have had the good fortune of viewing these lovely rooms, which include some designed by Kent 300 years ago. For those planning a trip to London, I would suggest seeing The Royal Academy on the weekends, when more rooms are open.

Kent's ceiling today

Kent’s ceiling today

Kent's dinner room

Kent’s dinner room

Sidewalk (on Piccadilly) entrance today. This addition was completed in Victorian times.

Sidewalk (on Piccadilly) entrance today. This addition was completed in Victorian times.

 

Chiswick House: quintessentially Georgian

© Cheryl Bolen, 2012

Chiswick House (the Brits pronounce as Chiz-ick) is today located in suburban London, but when it was built in the Georgian era, it was a palatial estate alongside the River Thames in Richmond and was accessible from London by boat. It was one of many Thames-side villas that had begun to be constructed from the early seventeenth century onward.

Chiswick House
Lord Burlington’s perfectly symmetrical gem in suburban London. (Photos by Dr. John Bolen)

For me, Chiswick is perhaps the most quintessentially Georgian of all the fabulous homes built in the era–even though it is neither of grand proportions nor was it intended as a family home.

The immensely wealthy Third Earl of Burlington (1694-1853) was an arbitrator of taste and style. He had traveled extensively on the Continent and was one of the earliest disciples of Italian architect Andrea Palladio, who was the primary influence of the clean classic lines that characterize Georgian/Palladian architecture.

So fascinated was Burlington with Palladian architecture, he designed Chiswick himself—something the idle aristocrats simply did not do. Construction occurred from 1726-1729.

Another of the significant Georgian associations with the house is that Chiswick passed to Burlington’s grandson, the Fifth Duke of Devonshire, whose wife Georgiana was an arbitrator of fashion and leader of English society the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

Interiors of Chiswick House

And the last significant Georgian association, at least for me, is that charismatic Whig leader Charles James Fox died at Chiswick in 1806, the same year Georgiana died.

Lord Burlington intended Chiswick House to serve as a temple of the arts to display his most significant works of art.

The perfectly symmetrical, perfectly classical structure’s most memorable feature is the octagonal saloon at the center, which soars up to a domed roof that is lighted by dome-shaped windows. Huge canvases have hung in this chamber for almost three centuries.

One reason Chiswick was not designed as a family home was because Burlington had inherited his grandfather’s Jacobean house on the property, which he continued to use. His grandson had that demolished and added wings onto Chiswick. The wings were demolished in the 1950s to restore Chiswick to Burlington’s original vision.

Today, the house is in the care of English Heritage and can be toured for a fee. The surrounding grounds—significantly reduced from what they were in Georgian times—are free to the public and cared for by the Borough of Hounslow.