Alfred Waterhouse (English, 1830–1905), a leader of England’s Gothic revival, produced a series of meticulously orchestrated grand buildings during the latter part of the Victorian era. Among his commissions were such public works as the Manchester Assize Courts (1859), Strangeways Jail (1861–1869), Manchester’s Town Hall (1868), and Liverpool’s Royal Infirmary (1886–1892). He also took on big country houses, churches, and many buildings at Oxford and Cambridge universities.
When the British government organized an architectural competition for a new natural history museum in South Kensington that would house the remarkable collections of Sir Hans Sloane, the winner was Francis Fowke. (Fowke had designed the 1862 Universal Exhibition building, a widely assailed hulk that had been torn down to make way for the new museum.) But he died early in the design process, and the project was quietly handed to Waterhouse, who integrated many of Fowke’s ideas into his plan.
The result is among Waterhouse’s greatest successes. Behind a Romanesque terra-cotta facade ornamented with countless animals lies a marvelous entrance, where exposed iron vaults soar over a dinosaur skeleton, leading to a deftly arranged series of exhibition halls that reflected a distinctly modern attitude toward the origin of species.
A brilliant watercolorist, Waterhouse exhibited eighty of his architectural views and landscapes at the Royal Academy. The paintings reproduced for this folio convey both the marvelous adaptability of terra-cotta to a role formerly assigned to stone, and the facility with which Waterhouse translated architectural forms traditionally reserved for sacred buildings to their new secular counterpart, the science museum.