Embassy of the Republic of Poland
James and Robert Adam
- Original design
- James and Robert Adam , 1773
The 2018 programme is now past. We will be launching the 2019 programme mid-August.
This Grade II* listed terraced townhouse is one of the few surviving buildings designed by Scottish neo-classical architects, James Adam (1732-1794) and Robert Adam (1728-1792) located in Portland Place.
It was originally built as part of a speculative venture in Portland Place in the years 1773-1796 for the politician John Elwes (1714-1789), a widely reputed miser, often believed to be the inspiration for Charles Dickens’ literary character, Ebenezer Scrooge.
The estate was originally designed to be one of the more exclusive areas of the city, with a characteristic central avenue of trees accessible only through its side streets. By the early twentieth century, Portland Place had lost its appeal but is still memorable for its Continental feel and still best known today for being the widest street (40m) in Central London.
In the years 1901-1906, the building became home to Field Marshal Frederick Roberts, Ist Earl Roberts (1832-1914) who moved here after having returned from the Second Boer War to become Commander-in-Chief of the British Army.
In 1914, the building was purchased by two persons, peer and landowner Thomas Evelyn Scott-Ellis, 8th Baron Howard de Walden and 4th Baron Seaford (1880-1946) and coal magnate and philanthropist and Liberal MP, Sir Arthur Basil Markham (1866-1916). During the ownership of the Markhams, the interiors of the building were refurbished; the ground floor was decorated in the Louis XVI style to accommodate such embellishments as gilded panelling, gold furnishings and dark walls.
The building was later purchased by the Polish Foreign Ministry in 1921 from the widow of Sir Arthur Basil Markham, Lady Lucy Markham, CBE (1873-1960), mother-in-law to Polish diplomat and aristocrat, Count Edward Raczyński (1891-1993).
During the inter-war years, the Embassy became a key centre in the diplomatic landscape of the city and the British press wrote of the famous musical soirees hosted by the Ambassador and his wife. Following the outbreak of World War II, the building became the official headquarters of the Polish Republic-in-Exile.
Located on the corner of Portland Place and Weymouth Street the building is a fine example of a Georgian townhouse. Its four-story, three-bay wide front façade is relatively modest.
Above the ground floor level the brick facade is symmetrical. The ground floor walls are in stucco, simulating finely dressed stonework rustication. A large off-centre arch emphasizes the main entrance. A generous front door opens onto a wide and spacious entrance hall, which leads to principal rooms of classical proportions located in the north wing.
The walls of the entrance hall are adorned with plaster bas relief featuring playful putti set against a classical pastoral backdrop, whilst cornices are decorated with medallions and floral embellishments.
A graceful stone staircase leads to the first floor, where the L-shaped music room is a fine example of early twentieth century Japanese-Western eclectic style.
Doors to the main rooms are set in archways with pediments rested on Corinthian pilasters, decorated with elaborate wooden ornaments. Characteristic elements of the main rooms include fine painted ceiling tondos and chimney pieces with fluted oak stiles and ornamental garlands, festoons, vines and wooden wreaths.
The Polish Embassy houses a modest collection of artworks and objects which are representative of various periods of European art.
This collection includes neo-classicist Louis XVI style furniture, eighteenth and nineteenth century landscape paintings and portraits including one of the last Polish king, Stanislaus August Poniatowski (1732-1798) by the Italian neo-classical painter Marcello Baciarelli (1731-1818).
Other valuable works include paintings by late nineteenth century Polish artists of the Munich School, eighteenth century engravings of Shakespeare plays by English engraver Robert Thew (1758-1802) and twentieth century sculptures by famous Polish artists such as the minimalist Magdalena Gross (1891-1948) and cubist Marek Szwarc (1892-1958).