Born in 1780 in London he was the second son of the artist Robert Smirke. In 1796 he entered the office of Sir John Soane. He gained Silver and Gold Medals at the Royal Academy. He travelled and continued his studies in Greece and Italy.
Sir Robert Smirke designed Sir Robert Peel’s house at Whitehall in London. He was described: “not brilliant but reliable, a meticulous designer who never exceeded his estimate.”
His works include: British Museum, London; Covent Garden Theatre; Somerset House, London; Royal College of Physicians, London; Kinfauns Castle, Perth; Strathearn Castle; Coltoquhey House; County Buildings, Perth.
“Smirke was the son of portrait painter Robert Smirke, and studied architecture as a pupil of classical architect John Soane in 1796, the same year he commenced his studies at the Royal Academy. He also studied and travelled in southern Europe for several years.
Smirke designed public buildings in the classical style, including the main block and facade of the British Museum, the east wing of Somerset House and the adjacent King’s (formerly Smirke) Building of King’s College London, and the Royal College of Physicians building in Trafalgar Square (now known as Canada House).
He also designed the second incarnation of the Covent Garden Theatre, now theRoyal Opera House (destroyed by fire in 1857), and the General Post Office building in St Martins-le-Grand in the City of London (built between 1825 and 1829(demolished c. 1910).
Together with John Nash and Sir John Soane, he became official architect to theOffice of Works in 1813. He advised the Parliamentary Commissioners on the building of new Churches from 1818 onwards, contributing four himself, includingSt George, Brandon Hill in Bristol.
In his thirteenth year he was apprenticed in London with an heraldic painter, and at the age of twenty he began to study in the schools of the Royal Academy, to whose exhibition he contributed in 1786 a “Narcissus” and a “Sabrina,” which were followed by many works, usually small in size, illustrative of the English poets, especially James Thomson.
In 1791 Smirke was elected an associate of the Royal Academy and two years later a full member. He painted pictures for John Boydell‘s Shakespeare Gallery, including Katharina and Petruchio, Prince Henry and Falstaff. In 1814 he was nominated keeper to the Royal Academy, but the king refused to sanction the appointment on account of the artist’s revolutionary opinions.
He also executed many clever and popular book-illustrations. His works, which are frequently humorous, are pleasing and graceful, accomplished in draughtsmanship and handled with considerable spirit. He died in London on 5 January 1845.