Francis Penrose - First Director 1886-1887 and Architect of the original building

Francis Cranmer Penrose (1817 – 1903) was the first Director of the British School at Athens and architect of the first School building. He was an architect, artist and researcher and was Surveyor of the Fabric of St Paul's Cathedral from 1852–1897. Penrose wrote and illustrated An Investigation Of The Principles Of Athenian Architecture, published by the Society Of Dilettanti in 1851, which included colour lithograph architectural images, including of polychromy of the Parthenon. Penrose was also a gifted sportsman and rowed for the University of Cambridge and captained the team.

Francis Penrose was the son of Rev. John Penrose, a vicar at Bracebridge, Lincolnshire and Elizabeth Cartwright, a well-known children’s writer and historian. His parents were related to a number of unusual and creative people including inventors and writers which would have influenced his upbringing and thinking. He was educated at Winchester College and Magdalene College, Cambridge. Following university and with a bursary from Cambridge, Penrose undertook a three year travelling research trip from 1842 to 1845 studying the architecture of France, Italy and Greece. In Greece during this trip, he was kidnapped by brigands (bandits) with his travelling companion Richard Church, and they were tied up but managed to get away after a few hours (and the story goes that Penrose insisted on waiting around longer while he sketched some local architecture).

When Penrose became Director at the School in Athens, he lived there with his wife Harriette Gibbes and three of his children, Emily, Alice and Mary. Emily was then 28 and her diary and some paintings are now in the archives of the British School at Athens, which provide an important record of life at the School in the first year. Emily learnt painting from her father, and learnt modern Greek during that year in Athens and she went on to become a leading academic and advocate for women in universities and Oxford’s first Dame in 1927.

Penrose was a very proficient watercolourist and some of his water-colour sketches of the School and its gardens and surrounds remain at the BSA.

Artist’s Note: As with Jebb, this Penrose portrait was based on his photo in the BSA archives and I had the same visual dilemma with his facial hair. In the end this was resolved in a similar way to Jebb by combining a LEGO head with sideburns and a beard piece that goes under the chin along with a bald hair piece (although the hair is not quite as long as I would have liked but as always I have to work within the limitations of what the LEGO Group produce). As I did with Jebb, I considered designing my own head but I prefer to use genuine designed LEGO heads where possible because this seems closer to the underlying intrinsic spirit of the LEGO minifigure and it is always very hard to get changed designs printed to the correct proportions.