Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pugin, Augustus Charles

PUGIN, AUGUSTUS CHARLES (1762–1832), architect, archæologist, and architectural artist, was born in France in 1762, and claimed descent from a distinguished French family. Driven from his country either by the horrors of the revolution or by private reasons connected with a duel, he came to London about 1798, and soon found employment as a draughtsman in the office of John Nash [q. v.] His earliest work with Nash consisted in making coloured perspective views of certain ‘Gothic’ mansions upon which his master was engaged, and in the working out of an unaccepted design for the Waterloo monument. To increase his powers as an artist, he entered the schools of the Royal Academy, where he made the acquaintance of two fellow-students, Martin (afterwards Sir Martin) Archer Shee [q. v.] and William Hilton. He further revived acquaintance with Merigot, an aquatint engraver, who formerly had been a drawing-master to his father's family, and studied under him with advantage.

Nash, who treated his pupils and assistants with great kindness and hospitality, discovered in Pugin a valuable subordinate. Gothic art, though ill understood, was warmly appreciated by the distinguished clients for whom he worked, and Nash set Pugin to produce a collection of trustworthy drawings from ancient buildings which might form the basis of design for himself and other architects. The truthfulness of Pugin's drawings in form and colour at once attracted attention. A change was then coming over water-colour art. The old style—brown or Indian ink outline with a low-toned wash—was giving way to the more modern practice of representation in full colour, and Pugin, though he limited his palette to indigo, light red, and yellow ochre, was an active supporter of the new movement, and to his influence its ultimate predominance was largely due. In 1808 Pugin was elected an associate of the Old Water-colour Society, which had been founded in 1805, and he was a frequent exhibitor at the annual exhibitions held first in Lower Brook Street and subsequently in Pall Mall. Through his connection with the society he formed friendships with Antony Vandyke Copley Fielding [q. v.] and George Fennel Robson [q. v.] About the same time Pugin was employed on Ackermann's publications, notably the ‘Microcosm,’ for which he supplied the architectural portions of the illustrations, Rowlandson executing the figures. In 1823 he published, in conjunction with E. W. Brayley, a set of views in Islington and Pentonville, for which he had been collecting the materials at least eleven years before. Islington was, after the French Revolution, the headquarters of royalist emigration, and there Pugin met his future wife, Catherine, daughter of William Welby, barrister, and a relative of Sir William Welby. She was known as the ‘Belle of Islington.’ After her marriage (2 Feb. 1802) she exercised a firm control over Pugin's pupils as well as his household.

Meanwhile Nash and his works were not altogether neglected. Pugin in 1824 was asked to make the drawings for a volume illustrating the Brighton Pavilion, and while he was engaged upon the work George IV, who came to watch, accidentally upset the colour-box, and, mindful perhaps of illustrious parallels in the past, picked it up with an apology that greatly gratified the artist.

In 1821 there appeared the first number of ‘Specimens of Gothic Architecture,’ the first-fruits of the mission which Nash had laid upon Pugin; and in 1825 he visited Normandy with some of his pupils. The drawings which he and his assistants made in France on this and later occasions are among the most important of his productions. Pugin's band of pupils included, besides his celebrated son Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin [q. v.], W. Lake Price (still living) and Joseph Nash [q. v.], who became members of the Old Water-colour Society; James Pennethorne [q. v.], Talbot Bury, J. D'Egville, son of the ballet-master of the Italian opera; B. Ferrey, biographer of the Pugins; Francis T. Dollman, architect and author of several architectural works (still living); and Charles James Mathews [q. v.], the comedian. Hints for the character of Monsieur Mallet, which the elder Mathews frequently personated at the old Adelphi Theatre, were drawn from his knowledge of Pugin and of his troubles as a newly arrived foreigner in England.

As an architect on his own account Pugin had little or no practice. He was associated with Sir Marc Isambard Brunel [q. v.] in the designs for the cemetery at Kensal Green, and his drawing for one of the gateways of the cemetery was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1827. He was joint architect with Morgan of the diorama near Regent's Park, now a chapel, and designed the internal decoration of the cosmorama in Regent Street (destroyed by fire). He earned his title to fame partly as an educator of young architects, notably his own son, but chiefly by his work as an illustrator of Gothic architecture; for by his careful drawings of old buildings he paved the way for the systematic study of detail which was the basis of that true revival which followed the hopeless and unlearned period of ‘Strawberry-Hill’ enthusiasm.

Pugin's office was first at 34 Store Street, Tottenham Court Road, but in his later years he resided at 105 (now 106) Great Russell Street. There he died, after a long illness, on 19 Dec. 1832. Mrs. Pugin survived him till 28 April 1833, and both were buried in a family vault at the church of St. Mary, Islington, where they had been married.

A lithograph portrait is in B. Ferrey'sRecollections of A. N. W. Pugin,’ drawn from memory by his pupil Joseph Nash, and a portrait in oils, by Oliver is in the possession of the family.

The published works which Pugin produced or in which he participated are:

  1. Plates (with Rowlandson) for ‘Ackerman's Microcosm of London,’ 1808.
  2. With Mackenzie, ‘Specimens of Gothic Architecture from Oxford,’ 4to, n.d.
  3. With E. W. Brayley, ‘Views in Islington and Pentonville,’ 4to, 1823.
  4. ‘Specimens of Gothic Architecture’ (descriptions by E. J. Willson), 2 vols. 4to, 1821–3.
  5. With J. Britton, ‘Illustrations of the Public Buildings of London,’ 8vo, 1825–8.
  6. Plates of Gothic Furniture for ‘Ackermann's Repository of Arts,’ 1810–25–26–27; republished separately about 1835.
  7. With Britton and Le Keux, ‘Specimens of Architectural Antiquities of Normandy,’ 4to, 1826–8.
  8. ‘Examples of Gothic Architecture,’ 2 vols. 4to, 1828–31.
  9. ‘Translation of Normand's Parallel of Orders of Architecture,’ with two extra plates, fol. 1829.
  10. With Heath, ‘Views of Paris and Environs,’ 4to, 1828–1831.
  11. ‘Gothic Ornaments from Ancient Buildings in England and France,’ 4to, 1831.
  12. ‘Ornamental Gables,’ 4to, 1831. This and No. 10 with lithographs by J. D. Harding. 13. ‘Gothic Furniture,’ 1835.

Pugin also contributed plates to other publications by Ackermann, such as the volumes on Westminster Abbey, 1812, and the public schools, 1816.

[Ferrey's Recollections of A. W. N. Pugin; Life of C. J. Mathews, edited by C. Dickens; Architectural Publication Society's Dictionary; Redgrave's Dict. of Artists; private information.]

P. W.