“William Kent : Designing Georgian Britain” at The Victoria and Albert Museum

Polymath Transforms Georgian England!


 William Kent (1685 – 17480) [source]

What a man! William Kent was hugely influential within Georgian English aristocratic circles. His designs spanned the widest spectrum of English upper class design from art to architecture and from furniture to gardens. Kent’s patrons included Lord and Lady Burlington, the Cokes of Leicester, the Walpoles of Houghton. Influenced by his early visits to Italy it’s surprising that William Kent is not far better known. This exhibition at the V&A tells his story with rich illustrations and varied artefacts. Go yourself and ponder why William Kent is not more familiar to us today.

I wrote that little appreciation/review for the ticket agent that supplied our tickets for the show last Friday afternoon.

The Georgians are big business as 2014 marks 300 years since the accession of George I thus beginning a succession of Hanoverian Kings of England which lasted until 1830.

The season started well with the British Library’s overview The Georgians Revealed that covered many aspects of life in 18th and early 19th century Britain. There are significant exhibitions at The Queen’s Gallery : The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714-1760 and at The Historic Royal Palaces (Kensington Palace; Kew Palace and Hampton Court Palace) : The Glorious Georges. And BBC television is currently broadcasting a month-long Georgian season.

William Kent Paintings

Slideshow of William Kent Paintings

William Kent was born in Bridlington, North Yorkshire, the son of a carpenter. From 1709 to 1719 he studied in Rome, copying Old Master paintings and learning the techniques of etching and engraving. Here in Italy he was to meet Lord Burlington who, with his wife, became patron and good friend to Kent. Burlington gave him his first commissions back in England and helped to set Kent off on his course designing for many of the great English landowners.


 A Kent-designed chair from Holkham Hall

Kent designed the interiors of many stately homes including Houghton Hall, home of the Walpoles, in Norfolk.

Houghton Hall

 Exterior of Houghton Hall, Norfolk


Stowe Landscape Garden with Gothic Temple and Palladian Bridge

Most of all Kent is best-known to me as the designer of landscape gardens.


Kent’s landscape designs confirm his status as the artistic genius of the era, a father of the English landscape garden. In contrast with the French and Dutch fashions for formal gardens, Kent took his inspiration from the ideal landscapes of pastoral literature and painting. His design drawings are not detailed plans, but poetic evocations of the landscape effects he was attempting to achieve.

Kent’s gardens could be places of activity and good fellowship, or places of reflection and solitude. Carefully crafted vistas lead the eye out beyond the garden into the surrounding countryside. He designed over fifty garden buildings which were positioned to act as picturesque focal points for views and also as places from which to contemplate the garden. His buildings vary from sober copies of ancient buildings to wild flights of fancy, from pyramids, triumphal arches and Chinese kiosks to grottoes and artificial ruins.” [V&A website]