In our occasional series about Scottish influence in Eastern Europe, it would be highly irregular to overlook the contribution of Charles Cameron, who was offered the position of court architect to Catherine II (‘Catherine the Great’) and whose designs provide a Classicist look in contrast to the prevailing Baroque style of the period.
Cameron was, in fact, born in London in 1745, to Walter and Hannah Cameron. Walter was a Scottish builder and carpenter who had established himself in the English capital. The young Charles – possibly named in honour of the Jacobite prince – was apprenticed to his father and soon began to display considerable talent for design.
In the 1760s, Charles Cameron travelled to Rome and undertook a detailed study of Roman baths. On his return to London, he published the snappily-titled The Baths of the Romans explained and illustrated, with the Restorations of Palladio corrected and improved.
Despite its unwieldy title and somewhat esoteric nature, it seems likely that the book was instrumental in Cameron’s appointment to the Russian court. Certainly, his name was known around Europe and Catherine, eager to present Russia as a modern European country, scoured the continent for architects and designers to provide the expertise she desired.
Cameron’s most notable works were the gallery that bears his name at the Catherine Palace and the Pavlovsk Palace, built for the son of Catherine the Great. The Catherine Palace, incidentally, was built for the empress Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great.
Catherine the Great preferred the Classical style to the Baroque and Cameron was the man to deliver. He redecorated the interior of the Rococo Catherine Palace before setting to work on the new gallery and its attendant park. The gallery, with its myriad statues of poets and philosophers, became the favourite promenade of Catherine.
Cameron also designed the nearby Sophia Ascension Cathedral. Catherine was eager to build a church that resembled the vast Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The architect was not familiar with the great Byzantine church and the result was more in his usual Classical style.
Ironically, it was the Pavlovsk Palace, perhaps Cameron’s most famous work, that led to his fall from favour. Cameron built the original palace but fell out with the emperor (Paul) and empress (Maria) over costs. Cameron was dismissed by the emperor in 1796.
Paul’s successor, Alexander, was more well-disposed towards Cameron and the architect was reappointed as chief architect of the Russian Admiralty in 1801. He also designed the Naval Hospital at Oranienbaum before retiring in 1805.
Despite speaking no Russian and apparently having no Russian friends, he continued to live in Russia and died there in 1812, just before the invasion of Russia by Napoleon.