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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Sydney Smirke (1797–1877)

Architect born in London, the fifth son of the painter Robert Smirke RA (1753–1845) and the younger brother of England’s leading Greek Revival architect Sir Robert Smirke RA (1780–1867), whose pupil he initially was. Sydney Smirke entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1817, winning the Silver Medal in 1817 and the Gold Medal in 1819. In the following year, he visited Sicily and mainland Italy, sketching and measuring classical architecture. In 1828, he was appointed Clerk of the King’s Works at St James’s Palace. He succeeded to many of his brother’s positions: in 1841, to the surveyorship of the Inner Temple, and in 1846, on his brother’s retirement, to the surveyorships of the Duchy of Lancaster, the British Museum and the General Post Office. His first major commission was the reconstruction of the Pantheon, Oxford Street (1833–34; demolished), and his most celebrated design the round reading room of the British Museum (1854–57), inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. He was elected an Associate Royal Academician in 1847 and full Royal Academician in 1859, was the Royal Academy Schools’ professor of architecture, 1860–65, and Royal Academy treasurer 1861–1874 (his last major commission was for a range of exhibition galleries for Burlington House, 1866–70). He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, the Society of Antiquaries, and the Royal Institute of British Architects and, in 1852, founded the Architects’ Benevolent Society (serving as president until his death).

Bibliography: T. Cavanagh, Public Sculpture of Kensington and Chelsea with Westminster South-West, Watford, 2023, pp. 347–60, 495; D.V. Reidy, ‘Smirke, Sydney (1798–1877)’, ODNB, Oxford, 2004; Royal Academy of Arts website; The Times, 12 December 1877, p. 11 (obit.).

Terry Cavanagh November 2022

Smirke, Sydney

Sydney Smirke, 1860s carte-de-visite by John and Charles Watkins (photo: John & Charles Watkins, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)