Untold lives blog

04 July 2017

Paul Fourdrinier: The Architects’ Engraver in 18th century Britain

Born in the Netherlands in 1698, Paul Fourdrinier trained in Amsterdam before moving to London in 1720, where he established a highly successful business at Charing Cross. Although he created a wide range of illustrations and maps, he was particularly well known for his work with architects: according to George Vertue, his architectural engravings were ‘remarkable… many are very curious and neatly done’ (‘Vertue’s Notebook’, 136).

Plate from The Ruins of Palmyra
Paul Fourdrinier after Giovanni Borra, Plate XV from The Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tedmor, in the desart, London, 1753. British Library 74/744.f.16. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

During a career which lasted over thirty years, Fourdrinier worked with many of Britain’s leading architects. Because architectural books are conventionally identified as the work of the architects whose drawings they are based on, his plates have rarely been treated as a unique body of work. His work appeared in numerous publications: The Designs of Inigo Jones (published by William Kent, 1727), Robert Castell’s The Villas of the Ancients (1728), Andrea Palladio’s First Book of Architecture (rev. Colen Campbell, 1728), Fabbriche Antiche Disegnata da Andrea Palladio (published by Lord Burlington, c. 1730), Isaac Ware’s Designs of Inigo Jones and others (1731) and The Plans, Elevations and Sections, Chimney Pieces and Ceilings of Houghton in Norfolk (1735), Charles Labelye’s A Short Account of the Methods Made Use of in Laying the Foundation of the Piers of Westminster-Bridge (1739), Stephen Riou’s The Elements of Fortification (1746), James Gibbs’s Bibliotheca Radcliviana (1747), John Wood’s An Essay towards a Description of Bath (rev. edn, 1749) and A Dissertation upon the Orders of Columns (1750), Francis Price’s A Series of Particular and Useful Observations, Made with great Diligence and Care, upon that Admirable Structure, The Cathedral-Church of Salisbury (1753), Robert Wood’s The Ruins of Palmyra (1753) and The Ruins of Balbec (1757), Isaac Ware’s A Complete Body of Architecture (1755–57), William Chambers’s Designs of Chinese Buildings (1757) and A Treatise on Civil Architecture (1759), and James Stuart and Nicholas Revett’s The Antiquities of Athens (1762).

Plate from Designs of Chinese Buildings

Paul Fourdrinier after William Chambers, Plate IV from Designs of Chinese Buildings, London, 1757. British Library 56.i.7. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

These publications encompass a tremendous range of building types and architectural styles, and in each one Fourdrinier’s exceptional talents were fundamental to the success of the project. Outstanding precision of line was required, and specific graphic conventions were deployed for depth: key tonal differentiations which represented the surfaces of elevations include ‘plain white for smooth ashlar in sunlight; flecks for rough-dressed stone in sunlight; horizontal hatching for half-shading of ashlar; cross-hatching for voids; diagonal cross-hatching for cast shadows, &c’ (Mark J. Millard, 361).

Transverse Section, Houghton Hall, Norfolk
Isaac Ware drew this section of Houghton Hall and it was subsequently engraved by Fourdrinier. (Isaac Ware, ‘Transverse Section, Houghton Hall, Norfolk’, 1735. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1925.) Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Fourdrinier’s reputation for exquisite architectural plates was such that his involvement in a project became part of its commercial appeal. His contributions were regularly highlighted in the advertisements for the different numbers of Ware’s A Complete Body of Architecture. In an advertisement published on 25 August 1756, the Gazetteer and London Daily Advertiser reported that the upcoming number not only included two of Fourdrinier’s plates, but that his work would be standard: ‘The Publick may depend that all the Plates of this Work, will for the future, be executed in the same masterly Manner.’ Today, the masterly details of Fourdrinier’s plates speak for themselves.

Jocelyn Anderson
Courtauld Institute of Art

Further reading:
Eileen Harris and Nicholas Savage, British Architectural Books and Writers, 1556 – 1785, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
The Mark J. Millard Architectural Collection, Volume II: British Books Seventeenth through Nineteenth Centuries, Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1998.
‘Vertue’s Note Book B.4 [British Museum Add. MS. 23,079]’, The Volume of the Walpole Society 22 (1933): 87 – 142.

For more from Dr Jocelyn Anderson see our new topography visual art resource Picturing Places -
The Gardens at Kew
18th-century country house guidebooks: tools for interpretation and souvenirs 
Country houses and The Copper Plate Magazine 


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