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Augustus Welby Pugin

Augustus Welby PuginAKA Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin

Born: 1-Mar-1812
Birthplace: Bloomsbury, London, England
Died: 14-Sep-1852
Location of death: Ramsgate, Kent, England
Cause of death: Exhaustion

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Architect

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Built the Houses of Parliament

The most prominent British architect of the 19th Century, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, son of Augustus Charles Pugin, a Frenchman by birth who settled in London as an architectural draughtsman and had several pupils who rose to fame, was born in Store Street, Bedford Square, on the 1st of March 1812. After an education at Christ's Hospital he entered his fathers office, where he displayed a remarkable talent for drawing. His father was for many years engaged in preparing a large series of works on the Gothic buildings of England, almost, if not quite, the first illustrated with accurate drawings of medieval buildings; and the son's early youth was mostly occupied in making minute measured drawings for these books. In this way his enthusiasm for Gothic art was first aroused. All through his life, both in England and during many visits to Germany and France, he continued to make great numbers of drawings and sketches, in pen and ink or with sepia monochrome, perfect in their delicacy and precision of touch, and masterpieces of skilful treatment of light and shade. At first he acted as assistant in his father's work, and his own independent efforts to obtain business were not very successful. In 1827 he was employed to design furniture in a medieval style for Windsor Castle; and in 1831 -- the year he married his first wife, Ann Garnett, who died in childbirth a year later -- he designed scenery for the new opera of Kenilworth at Her Majesty's theatre. But he got into money difficulties, and soon after his marriage he was imprisoned for debt. When he came out he again incurred serious losses over an attempt to start a shop for supplying architectural accessories of his own designing, which he had to give up. But after his second marriage in 1833 to Louisa Burton, and his reception into the Roman Catholic Church shortly afterwards, he began to obtain more steady architectural practice and by degrees he acquired the reputation which has made his name stand foremost among those responsible for the English Gothic revival. No man had so thoroughly mastered the principles of the Gothic style in its various stages, both in its leading lines and in the minutest details of its mouldings and carved enrichments. In 1837-43 he assisted Sir Charles Barry by working out the details of the designs for the new Houses of Parliament at Westminster; and though his exact share in the designs was subsequently the subject of bitter controversy after both he and Barry were dead, there is no doubt that, while he was working as Barry's paid clerk, a great deal in the excellence of the details was due to him and to his training of the masons and carvers. His conversion to Roman Catholicism, while part and parcel of his devotion to Gothic art, naturally brought him employment as an architect mainly from Roman Catholics; and many of his executed works suffered from the fact that his designs were not fully carried out, owing to a desire to save money or to spend it so as to make the greatest possible display. For this reason his genius is often more fairly displayed by his drawings than by the buildings themselves. In almost every case his design was seriously injured, both by cutting down its carefully considered proportions and by introducing shams (above all things hateful to Pugin), such as plaster groining and even cast-iron carving. The cathedral of St. George at Southwark, and even the church in Farm Street, Berkeley Square, London, are melancholy instances of this. Thus his life was a series of disappointments; no pecuniary success compensated him for the destruction of his best designs, as in him the man of business was thoroughly subordinate to the artist. He himself used to say that the only church he had ever executed with unalloyed satisfaction was the one at Ramsgate, which he not only designed but paid for. Pugin was very broad in his love for the medieval styles, but on the whole preferred what is really the most suited to modern requirements, namely the Perpendicular of the 15th century, and this he employed in its simpler domestic form with much success both in his own house at Ramsgate and in the stately Adare Hall in Ireland built for Lord Dunraven. The cathedral of Killarney and the chapel of the Benedictine monastery of Douai were perhaps the ecclesiastic buildings which were carried out with least deviation from Pugin's original conception.

Apart from his work as an architect, his life presents little of detail to record. In 1836 he published his Contrasts; or a Parallel between the Architecture of the 15th and 19th centuries, in which he seriously criticized the architecture of Protestantism. His other principal publications were True Principles of Christian Architecture (1841); Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament (1844); and Treatise on Chancel Screens and Rood Lofts (1851). He was a skilful etcher, and illustrated in this way a number of his works, which were written with much eloquence, great antiquarian knowledge and considerable humor. This last gift is exemplified in a series of etched plates in his Contrasts, on one side is some noble structure of the middle ages, and on the other an example of the same building as erected in the 19th century. In 1849 he married a third wife, daughter of Thomas Knill. Early in 1852 he was attacked by insanity, and he died on the 14th of September that year. His eldest son by his second wife, Edward Welby Pugin (1834-1875), was also an accomplished architect, who carried on his father's work.

Father: Augustus Charles Pugin (architect, French, b. 1762, d. 1832)
Wife: Anne Garnet (d. 1832 childbirth, one daughter)
Wife: Louisa Barton (m. 1833, d. 1844, five children)
Wife: Jane Knill (m. 1844, two children)

    Converted to Catholicism

Author of books:
Contrasts in Architecture (1836)
The True Principles of Pointed or Christian Architecture (1841)
The Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament (1844)
Chancel Screens (1851)



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