George Basevi, 1794 – 1845
Basevi, the son of a wealthy London Merchant, and from a prominent Jewish family - his father’s sister was the mother of Benjamin Disraeli – was articled aged 16 to Sir John Soane, the architect of the Bank of England, and whose small house Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is one the capital’s delights.
Very talented, young Basevi was Soane’s most illustrious pupil. After studying at the Royal Academy, then in Somerset House, followed by travels in Greece and Rome to study classical architecture there, he returned home and set up his own practice aged 26.
His great London comission is Belgrave Square which he designed and oversaw the building of, from 1825. The corner houses are by other men. One of the most impressive houses is no 18, where he lived with his family. Other Basevi street scapes include Pelham and Egerton Crescents, and Thurloe Square. In his London work, he shows his skill in combining several terrace house into a coherent whole, with great sensitivity to detail and the rise and fall, projection and recession of the complete terrace unit. His terraces are beautiful and a model for the proliferation of mid 19th century stucco and brick terraces of Kensington and Chelsea:
As well as having a significant country house practice, his most famous work is the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Having started out designing in a restrained Greco Roman style (Belgrave Square) the Fitzwilliam shows how he might have developed. It is wonderfully baroque and much more elaborate: an orchestral fortissimo. He died before it could be finished. But the columned exterior and the main galleries are his. Aged just 51, he was killed when he fell from a great height inspecting work at Ely Cathedral. The Fitzwilliam was completed by other men, and has been variously added on to in the 20th century. It ranks as one of the finest museum buildings in Britain.