Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736) was a leading English architect. His very original church designs are baroque in their monumentality and sense of mass.
Nicholas Hawksmoor was born in Nottinghamshire, probably at Ragnall. He entered the service of Sir Christopher Wren at the age of 18 and was closely concerned with most of Wren's commissions from 1684 on, especially at Winchester Palace (begun 1683) and Chelsea Hospital (1687-1692). Hawksmoor also played an important part in the building of Wren's City of London churches during the 1680s and St. Paul's Cathedral between 1691 and 1712.
In 1689 Hawksmoor obtained through Wren the post of clerk of works at Kensington Palace and Greenwich Hospital, retaining the latter post until his death. From 1715 he was clerk of works at Whitehall Palace, Westminster Abbey, and St. James's Palace and secretary to the Board of Works. Dismissed from these posts in 1718, in 1726 he was restored as secretary, a post he held for the rest of his life.
As Wren's "supervisor, " "gentleman, " and "scholar, " Hawksmoor made a far greater contribution to his master's achievement than that of mere assistant or draftsman. In particular, he remedied Wren's deficiencies in the handling of the fundamental masses and proportions of a building. This feeling for mass and movement, which Hawksmoor derived from his studies of Roman and medieval architecture, was the basis of the baroque spirit in English architecture.
Hawksmoor was employed by Sir John Vanbrugh at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, from 1699 on and at Blenheim Palace from 1705, taking entire charge of the work there after Vanbrugh's final rupture with Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, until its completion in 1725. Their partnership was extremely close and successful: both understood the importance of mass, stability, and the element of movement in the relative advance and recession of the various planes of a building. Of Castle Howard and Blenheim it might truly be said that, while the total dramatic conception in each case was Vanbrugh's, many of the decorative features and details were due to Hawksmoor. The Long Library and Triumphal Arch Gateway at Blenheim were built entirely to his designs; so also was his masterpiece, the great Mausoleum at Castle Howard.
At Easton Neston, Northamptonshire (1702), entirely designed by Hawksmoor, he introduced elements that were of critical importance in the development of the English country house. He is famous chiefly for his London churches, especially St. George's, Bloomsbury (1720-1730); Christchurch, Spitalfields (1723-1729); and St. Alphege, Greenwich (1712-1714).
Hawksmoor was of lowly station in life, dourly reserved and self-effacing, and somewhat embittered by his failure to achieve worldly success. He died in his house at Millbank, Westminster, on March 25, 1736.
Further Reading on Nicholas Hawksmoor
The only full-length comprehensive monograph on Hawksmoor is Kerry Downes, Hawksmoor (1959), a well-documented and well-illustrated study of his life and career, incorporating the results of recent researches. A valuable short essay on Hawksmoor's achievement is H. S. Goodhart-Rendel, Nicholas Hawksmoor (1924), which contains excellent photographs, especially of his churches. His relations with Wren and Vanbrugh and his significance in the development of the English baroque movement are considered in Sir John Summerson, Architecture in Britain, 1530-1830 (1954; rev. ed. 1963). See also Laurence Whistler, Sir John Vanbrugh (1938), and The Imagination of Vanbrugh and His Fellow Artists (1954).
Additional Biography Sources
Colvin, Howard Montagu, Unbuilt Oxford, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.
Downes, Kerry, Hawksmoor, New York: Praeger, 1970, 1969; Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1980, 1979; London: Thames & Hudson, 1969; London: A. Zwemmer, 1979.
Downes, Kerry, Hawksmoor: an exhibition selected by Kerry Downes, held at Whitechapel Art Gallery, 23 March-1 May 1977, London: The Gallery, 1977.
Kaiser, Wolfgang, Castle Howard: ein englischer Landsitz des fruhen 18. Jahrhunderts: Studien zu Architektur und Landschaftspark, Freiburg im Breisgau: Gaggstatter, 1984.
Saumarez Smith, Charles, The building of Castle Howard, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.