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John Yenn, 1750–1821

Design for Wall Decoration

ca. 1800
Materials & Techniques:
Pen and black ink and watercolor on slightly textured, medium, rose laid paper
Sheet: 10 1/4 × 13 3/4 inches (26 × 34.9 cm)

Collector's mark, verso: Paul Mellon

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawing & Watercolors-Architectural
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
architectural subject
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In 1769 John Yenn was one of the first students admitted to study architecture at the Royal Academy School, recently founded in 1768. As part of his training there, he would have studied drawing from existing structures, sciagraphy (the depiction of architectural features using light and shade), and drawing from life. A pupil of Sir William Chambers (cats. 116-17) from 1764 Yenn was later employed as a clerk in Chambers office, eventually becoming chief architectural draftsman. Scholars have characterized Yenn as a "faithful disciple of Chambers," and indeed Chambers himself described his pupil as "an ingenious faithful intelligent servant' as late as 1774. While his designs indicate the influence of Chambers’ neoclassical style, Yenn's work is distinguished by its delicate line and color.

Color became an important aspect of late eighteenth-century architectural drawing, as the influence of French neoclassical architects who favored the practice coincided with the development of watercolor cakes, which made the medium accessible to those who did not know how to mix their own pigments. The use of color in the architectural interior received great attention in this period, when architects designed no only the exterior but also the interior décor, the furniture, and even the doorknobs. Yenn's use of light pinks and greens indicates his knowledge of color theory, as it echoes exactly the definition of "beautiful color" supplied by Edmund Burke in his Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful of 1757: "the colours of beautiful bodies must not be dusky or muddy, bur clean and fair…those which see, most appropriate to beauty are the milder of every sort: light greens, soft blues, weak whites, pink reds and violets."

Morna O'Neill

Wilcox, Forrester, O'Neil, Sloan. The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2001, pg. 149 cat. no. 127

The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-05-19 - 2001-08-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

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