Zucchi's portrait of architect James Adam.
Antonio Zucchi (1726-95) portrait of architect James Adam (1732-94). The painting is a new joint acquisition between National Galleries of Scotland and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). Photo credit: National Galleries of Scotland/Victoria and Albert Museum. Photos by Roberto Ricciuti.

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The £480,000 purchase was made via New York Old Master dealer Adam Williams Fine Art and £150,000 of the price came from the Art Fund, with the remaining contributions from the V&A and NGS.

Adam, a Scottish architect and furniture designer, was the younger brother and business partner of Neoclassical architect Robert Adam (1728-92).

The painting depicts Adam during his grand tour of Italy in 1763, before he returned to London to work with his brother. He undertook the tour, between 1760-63, to seek inspiration for his work.

He is depicted surrounded by objects that refer to the study of the ancient world that inspired the neo-classical designs for which the Adam family were renowned.

Architects and designers

Robert and James Adam, along with their brothers John and William, were the sons of the mason-architect and entrepreneur William Adam (1689-1748). Together the family enjoyed the status of being Scotland’s foremost architects of the 18th century. Their role as designers of neo-classical buildings and interiors was influential across Europe, north America and Russia.

Robert and James established their architectural practice in 1758. Between 1773-79 the brothers published The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, which played a major role in spreading knowledge of their work internationally.

The V&A said the portrait has the “distinction of being the only known work of such a subject by the painter Zucchi”.

Zucchi, who was born in Venice, later worked in the UK as the Adam family's chief decorative painter. He painted the ceilings at residences including Kenwood, Newby Hall and Osterley Park.

He later married the painter Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) in 1781 and settled with her in Rome.

It is rare to find a portrait painted by Zucchi, who is more well known for his work as an engraver and decorative painter. The portrait spent more than 150 years unidentified and was rediscovered after being cleaned in the past decade. It was then put on public display for the first time in more than a century at Kenwood House in London in 2016.

Until now James Adam has only been represented in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland through a modest and informal drawing by Allan Ramsay (1713-84), while Robert is the subject of two paste medallions by James Tassie (1735-99).

Zucchi portrait of James Adam

Antonio Zucchi (1726-95) portrait of architect James Adam (1732-94) on display in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Photo credit: National Galleries of Scotland/Victoria and Albert Museum. Photos by Roberto Ricciuti.

The portrait is now on show at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (SNPG), Edinburgh, before going on display in the V&A’s British Galleries in London later this year. It will remain on display at the V&A for one year before returning to be shown in Edinburgh. Thereafter, it will be shown at each institution for a period of seven years, on rotation.

Christopher Baker, director of European and Scottish Art and Portraiture for the National Galleries of Scotland, said: “James Adam’s portrait is a work of great swagger and refinement that demonstrates the confidence of the Scottish Adam family as seminal taste makers for 18th-century Europe.

The portrait becomes the third significant artwork to be jointly acquired by the V&A and NGS, following the acquisition of Antonio Canova’s The Three Graces (purchased 1994) and Lorenzo Bartolini’s The Campbell Sisters (purchased 2015).