British architectural polychromy, 1840-1870
In 1984, among the proposals for the redecoration of the British Museum was a plan to reinstate the decorative scheme for the Entrance Hall created in 1847 by Sydney Smirke. The controversy that ensued is the departure point for this thesis. Sydney Smirke's decorative scheme proved to be much more than simple embellishment of the space. It was a polychromatic scheme based on ancient Greek motifs and colours and their archaeological manner of use manifested the period's preoccupation with architectural historicism, and also final recognition that the Greeks had used bright colours on their buildings and sculpture. This thesis examines the architectural context of Smirke's scheme, and the development of architectural polychromy as a prominent feature of British architecture between 1840 and 1870. Although previous historical studies have been made of colour in the work of individual architects, and of the relation between the practice of polychromy and architectural thought (especially that of John Ruskin), there exists no comprehensive study of the practice of polychromy in mid-nineteenth century Britain. In particular, existing studies have not sufficiently stressed the great diversity of the sources for British polychromy. Part of the purpose of this thesis is to show that the development of polychromy by British architects was indebted not only to medieval sources, but also to antiquity, and to Islamic sources; and furthermore to show that the emergence of an architectural discourse about polychromy emerged not only out of the study of ecclesiology, and the writings of John Ruskin, but also from classical archaeology, and from contemporary European architectural thought. Of the various figures whose work is studied, Owen Jones emerges as the person who more than any other provided a connection between these diverse sources and ideas.