Cubitt’s Neo-Classical Revolution: Constructing Style in the 19th Century

Thomas Cubitt, a renowned figure of the 19th century, revolutionised the world of architecture with his dedication to the neo-classical style. This style, originating in the Renaissance, brought elements of ancient Greek and Roman culture to the forefront, with a focus on symmetry, proportion and geometry. The evolution of the style saw it adopt a lighter, less formal approach, and it was here that Cubitt saw an opportunity to introduce it to a more discerning mass market. Ken Allinson, in his book ‘Architects and Architecture of London’, portrayed Cubitt as a transitioned general contractor, an advocate of the neo-classical style, fondly termed a ‘Greekish’ figure. Despite his architectural contributions, Cubitt insisted on being recognised as a ‘builder’. His architectural style, and particularly his devotion to neo-classical design, played a critical role in advancing the fortunes of the Grosvenor family in 19th-century London. Cubitt’s architectural works saw him inspired by two unique variants of neo-classical design. He favoured the Greek style, championed by architect John Soane in the 1820s and 30s, and post-1840s, he leaned towards the Italianate style of Charles Barry, notably expressed in the Reform Club in Pall Mall. The origins of neo-classicism hark back to the early 15th to the early 16th-century Renaissance period. This era brought a revival of ancient Greek and Roman culture, emphasising symmetry, proportion, and geometry. The Baroque, a highly decorative and theatrical style, emerged from the Renaissance, profoundly influencing Christopher Wren, the architect behind the partially Baroque-inspired St Paul’s Cathedral.

Developing Architectural Styles

Post-Renaissance, the Palladian style, named after Italian Andrea Palladio, emerged with architects William Kent and Lord Burlington as its main advocates. However, its strict adherence to Roman designs saw it deemed excessively formal. Robert Adam counteracted this by crafting a more nuanced neo-classical style, integrating elements of Ancient Greek art into a lighter, less formal aesthetic featuring curves and wavy lines. Cubitt harnessed this trend, making neo-classical design accessible to the upper-class market. His work, aligned with the Regency period (1714 -1830), coincided with a resurgence of interest in classical Greece. Notable figures, like Lord Byron, popularised Greek nationalism, creating a fascination with Greek style beyond architecture, extending to painting, furniture, interior decoration, and dress design. For Cubitt, following this trend made business sense, as he developed Mayfair, Pimlico, and Belgravia into thriving Victorian-age locales. Join one of my Garden Village of Pimlico walks to witness the architectural transformation brought about by Thomas Cubitt.

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