CAMERON, Charles
(b. 1745, London, d. 1812, St. Petersburg)


English architect of Scottish descent, active in Russia. He was court architect in St. Petersburg from 1779 until his death.

Born in London, the son of a Scottish carpenter and builder who settled in London, Cameron trained under the architect Isaac Ware, who was an acknowledged expert on Italian Renaissance architecture and the style of Andrea Palladio, and who produced the key English translation of Palladio's Four Books of Architecture (I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura), complete with his own illustrative engravings. After Ware's death, Cameron continued his work for a new edition of Lord Burlington's Fabbriche Antiche, a treatise of ancient Roman art. He visited Rome in 1768, where he surveyed the Baths of Titus, as well as the remains of other public baths in the city. Returning from Italy in 1769, he published the results of his research in 1772 in a book entitled: "The Baths of the Romans", complete with detailed documentation in English and French.

Few details are known of his career between 1769 and his departure for St Petersburg in 1779, except that - through no fault of his own - he became embroiled in a financial scandal involving his father, who was jailed in Fleet Prison for debt.

In Russia, meanwhile, the classically-educated Empress Catherine II was becoming dissatisfied with being surrounded by Baroque architecture, and quickly perceived the "imperial" image potential of Neoclassical art. Through her European agent Baron Melchior Grimm, she recruited several Neoclassical designers and decorators including Cameron, who arrived in St Petersburg in 1779. Catherine took an instant liking to the Scot, being much impressed with his drawing skills as well as his knowledge of both Greek art and the monuments of ancient Rome.

Catherine II took a great interest in renovation and redesign of the royal residences on the outskirts of St. Petersburg at Tsarskoe Selo and Pavlovsk, for which she was able to secure the services of Cameron, her last court architect.

Cameron's career in Russia started with expansion of the Chinese Village in Tsarskoe Selo park. In 1780-84 he redecorated the formerly Rococo halls of the main Catherine Palace built by Bartolomeo Rastrelli (1700-1771) in the 1750s; what started as a modest remodelling soon resulted in the most lavish interiors of the whole palace, reminiscent of Palladio, Raphael, Robert Adam and Clérisseau yet blending into Cameron's unmistakably own style.

In 1782 Cameron started his first standalone building in Tsarskoe Selo, the Cold Baths, a two-story bathhouse in mixed Italian-Greek classicism with luxurious interiors (notably the Agate Pavilion). In 1784-87 it was expanded with a two-story gallery (Cameron's Gallery), mixing natural stone Roman ground floor with a lightweight, snow-white upper floor gallery marked with unusually wide spacing between columns. The gallery, adorned with statues of foreign poets and philosophers, became Catherine's favourite promenade for years. It was flanked with a formal garden on one side and an English landscape park on the other.

Pavlovsk, the largest landscape park in 18th century Russia, is attributed to a succession of architects, starting with Cameron and ending with Carlo Rossi. Cameron built the original palace core that survives to date, the Temple of Friendship, Private Gardens, Aviary, Apollo Colonnade and the Lime Avenue and planned the original landscape.

Upon ascension to power in 1796, Paul fired Cameron from all his contracts. Alexander, who succeeded Paul in March 1801, appointed Cameron the chief architect of the Russian Admiralty. In 1805 Cameron finally retired.