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Portrait of Rudolph Ackermann

George Basevi
by T. I. Mazzotti (?)
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge


George Basevi FRS (1794-1845)

Born in London in 1794, George Basevi was the younger son of a prominent City merchant. Educated in Greenwich, he became a pupil of Sir John Soane in 1810 and then continued his studies at the Royal Academy Schools. Following completion of his architectural training in 1816, Basevi travelled on the continent, first in Italy and then in Greece. In 1820, the year after his return to London, he exhibited at the Royal Academy and opened his own architectural practice in Albany. Renowned for his neo-classical designs, Basevi soon received several commissions, for churches (St Thomas, Stockport, Cheshire and St Mary, Greenwich, Kent) and country houses (Titness Park, Berkshire; Gatcombe Park, Gloucestershire; and Painswick Park, Gloucestershire). In 1825, he was appointed surveyor to William and George Haldimand and charged with the design and construction of Belgrave Square, his best known work in London. Basevi's most important single building, however, is the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, modelled on the Capitolium at Brescia.

Photograph of the Fitzwilliam Museum

The Fitzwilliam Museum
as built after the plans of
George Basevi

Fitzwilliam Museum envisaged by Rickmann & Hussey

The Fitzwilliam Museum
as envisaged by Thomas Rickmann and Richard Charles Hussey

The result of an open competition, to which twenty-seven architects submitted thirty-six designs, the Fitzwilliam Museum narrowly resulted in a neo-classical structure. Thomas Rickman and Richard Charles Hussey, for example, Basevi's closest competitors, submitted plans for a neo-Gothic structure, similar to the Cambridge University Press building on Trumpington Street today. Basevi having been named winner of the competition in late 1835, the foundation stone of the new museum was laid by the Vice-Chancellor of the University on 2 November 1837. The silver trowel he used was given to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1934.

South Porch of King's College Chapel Sadly, Basevi did not see the Fitzwilliam Museum completed. Inspecting repairs at Ely Cathedral in 1845, he accidentally fell through the floor of the West tower and died. A member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Society, he left behind a wife and eight children. Basevi's remains were buried in Bishop Alcock's chapel in Ely Cathedral.

Basevi's successor at the Fitzwilliam Museum was Charles Robert Cockerell. He followed Basevi's plans for the galleries, but modified his designs for the entrance hall. However, funds ran out and in the end it was left to Edward M. Barry to finish the entrance hall in 1875, twenty-seven years after the museum had first opened to the public in 1848. Considered of exceptional interest, the Fitzwilliam Museum is a Grade I listed building today.


Selected Bibliography

A. T. Bolton, Architectural Education a Century Ago: Being the Account of the Office of Sir John Soane with Special Reference to the Career of George Basevi, 1926

Fitzwilliam Museum, The Triumph of the Classical – Cambridge Architecture, 1804-1834, 1977 (with a introduction by D. Watkins)

S. Jervis, A Note on the Entrance Hall, 1993

R. John, 'George Basevi', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004-8

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User Comments

I visited Ely Cathedral this week and found the grave of George Basevi. It is not in Bishop Alcock's Chapel but in the North Presbytery Aisle. (I think the error may be due to one in the Oxford D.N.B.)

(content added by Ken Harman, Oct 2010)

Alexander Kinloch Forbes (1821-1865), played a vital role in Gujarat, India, in the emergence of modern Gujarati and brought western literary traditions to Gujarat. He was apprenticed to George Basevi as a budding architect. His apprenticeship lasted only 8 months after which AKF joined the East India Company and later became a judge and a vice chancellor of the recently founded Bombay University. AKF wrote the first history of Gujarat (Ras Mala) and collected sanskrit inscriptions and drew architectural drawings of forts and temples.

(content added by Arvind Bhatt, March 2011)

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with engraved floor plan of the Fitzwilliam Museum

Trowel with engraved floor plan of the Fitzwilliam Museum
London, Robert Garrard II, 1837
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Photograph of Lola - Blunt's mistress in Madrid

Floor plan of the Fitzwilliam Museum
George Basevi