The commissioning of this portrait from Sargent was largely engineered by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema at a cost of £150. F. C. Penrose (1817–1903) was President of the Royal Institute of British Architects 1894–1996 and brought an unusually high level of scholarship to the presidency. He was dubbed 'the Institute's Athenian', being an academic and historian more than a practising architect. He read mathematics at Magdalene College, Cambridge and rowed in the University Boat Races, 1841–1843. A scholarship took him to Italy and Greece where he studied the theory of dimensional changes in Greek architecture that resulted in his major work 'The Principles of Athenian Architecture' (1851 & 1888). He was the first director of the British School of Archaeology in Athens (1886–1887), having designed the school buildings. His invention of a 'helicograph', a gadget for geometrically describing the curve of the Ionic volute, won him a prize at the Great Exhibition of 1851. John Singer Sargent was one of the most fashionable portrait painters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with a large European and American clientele.
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RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections
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