The gallery that Empress Catherine II conceived as a place for strolls and philosophical conversations and Cameron created for her is located on the slope of a hill on the boundary between the regular and landscape areas of the Catherine Park near the Catherine Palace.
The walls of the lower storey of the gallery are faced with rusticated Pudost stone and pierced by arched mullioned windows. The lower storey serves as a base for the colonnade above, which consists of 44 white fluted columns with Ionic capitals. Deviated from the customary relationship between the height of columns and the space between them, Charles Cameron somewhat increased the gaps, investing the colonnade with a special lightness and grace. The large windows of the glazed hall in the central part of the upper storey make it completely transparent. The juxtaposing of the mighty arcade of the lower storey and the light upper one determines the aesthetic impression created by the Cameron Gallery and embodies the philosophical idea of the eternal contrast of existence.
The architect repeated several times the motif of a four-column portico: at both the main entrances, on the east and west sides, they support the pediments of the colonnade, while on the elongated north and south sides they recur as decorative elements. The frieze and cornice that encircle the gallery are treated in a strict Classical manner: the frieze is embellished with exquisite wreaths, the cornice with lion masks.
To finish the lower storey of the gallery Cameron used the same stone as for the Cold Bath, the Ramp and the Hanging Garden. This material, quarried by the village of Pudost, 30 kilometres from Tsarskoye Selo, had a colour and “weather-beaten” appearance reminiscent of the masonry of ancient edifices.
Cameron treated the monumental steps with brilliant simplicity and embellished its buttresses with two colossal statues – of Hercules and Flora – cast in bronze.
Construction of the gallery began in 1784: in March that year the architect submitted a plan and model to the Tsarskoye Selo Office of Works.
In March 1787 construction of the Cameron Gallery, which had been overseen by Ilya Neyelov as architect of the Tsarskoye Selo Office of Works, was completed. Its upper part remains to this day as it was two centuries ago. Only the rooms on the lower floor, used as accommodation for ladies-in-waiting and maids of honour, underwent reconstruction (today they house temporary exhibitions). The colonnade served as a sort of belvedere, providing superb views of the Great Pond and the landscape park. The gallery dominates the park and its colonnade can be seen from a good distance.
In the 1780s and 1790s bronze busts were installed on the upper level of the Cameron Gallery. These were cast in the foundry of the St Petersburg Academy of Arts and form a unique sculptural collection that has survived in the historical setting chosen for it by Catherine II.