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Anderson, William J.

    Full Name: Anderson, William J.

    Other Names:

    • William James Anderson

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 22 November 1863

    Date Died: 25 March 1900

    Place Born: Dundee, Scotland, UK

    Place Died: Glasgow, Scotland, UK

    Home Country/ies: United Kingdom

    Subject Area(s): architecture (object genre), Italian (culture or style), Italian Renaissance-Baroque styles, Renaissance, and sculpture (visual works)

    Career(s): art historians

    Institution(s): The Glasglow School of Art


    Practicing architect, teacher of and author on Greek and Italian architecture. Anderson was born in Dundee, Scotland, to James Anderson, a tea dealer, and Margaret Steel (Anderson). In his early years he had limited access to artistic and architectural education. That which he did get was primarily through office routine and private reading. In 1877 he became an apprentice to the architect James Gillespie (1854-1914) of St. Andrews. He subsequently moved to an office in Dundee, and ultimately to Glasgow by 1888, where he worked as a draftsman with Thomas Lennox Watson (1850-1920). He won the Alexander Thomson Memorial Studentship award in 1888, allowing him to study architecture and drawing in Italy for five months. Anderson then worked as a draftsman for William Leiper (1839–1916) in 1889. His interest from his Italian study of architecture led to him publishing his first book Architectural Studies in Italy in 1890 with his own funds. This textbook consisted of drawings and sketches made during his tour of Italy, and showed his early admiration for Italian architect Baldassare Peruzzi. He then started his own architectural practice in 1892 with his younger brother Alexander Ellis Anderson (1866-1935).

    In 1893, Anderson achieved status as an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was appointed Director of the architectural department of the Glasgow School of Art in 1894. In this role Anderson delivered lectures on Italian Renaissance and Roman architecture, and taught a course on the history and development of Greek architecture. However, one of his designs, Napier House (an early concrete work constructed before reinforcement was commonly used) collapsed on the top floor in 1898, killing five people. Consequently, Anderson suffered a nervous breakdown, ultimately committing suicide at thirty-six years old. Only one of his writing projects was essentially complete and able to be published posthumously, his lectures on ancient architecture which formed his second textbook The Architecture of Greece and Rome in 1902. It became a study text in many colleges. He had begun a third book on French architecture which Anderson’s publishers relinquished control. The Architecture of Ancient Greece went through a number of editions, revised by Willima Bell Dinsmoor.

    Anderson’s writing played a critical role in encouraging architects and teachers to embrace Italian Renaissance architecture (Lasansky, 2014). His first textbook consisted of drawings and sketches made during his tour of Italy, and showed his early admiration for Italian architect Baldassare Peruzzi. This textbook became one of the first texts for architects from this period, holding significant importance for young RIBA architects. He also had a special interest in and eventually developed mastery of the principles of archaic Greek architecture. Dinsmoor, in his revision to The Architecture of Ancient Greece, noted Anderson’s formalistic approach to architecture. Ironically, Anderson’s popularity as a textbook writer only emerged after his death. In his own practice, Anderson worked almost exclusively on low-cost buildings, apparent through his use of brick and concrete in most of his works. He experimented in the Modern Movement of architecture at the end of his career, particularly with the Napier House, which favors simplistic design and functionality over impressive detailing.

    Selected Bibliography

    • Architectural Studies in Italy. [privately printed] Glasgow: Maclure, Macdonald & Company, 1890;
    • The Architecture of the Renaissance in Italy: A general view for the use of students and others. London: T Batsford, 1901;
    • and Spiers, Richard Phené. The Architecture of Greece & Rome: A Sketch of Its Historic Development. London: BT Batsford, 1902;
    • [final update:] Spiers Richard Phené and William Bell Dinsmoor. The Architecture of Ancient Greece. 1950.


    Contributors: Rachel Hendrix


    Rachel Hendrix. "Anderson, William J.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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