Thursday, September 5, 2013

William Kent, Ultimate Tastemaker

William Kent's design for the Great Dining Hall
at Houghton Hall, Isaac Ware, draughtsman, 1743.
Plate 38 from the book
'The Designs of Inigo Jones and others.'
Image: Victoria & Albert Museum.
"William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain" is a landmark, new exhibition opening in the Gallery of the Bard Graduate Center, NYC, on September 20, 2013.  A collaboration with the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, where it will be on view next year, this is the first major exhibition on the man who was probably the most influential designer in Britain in the eighteenth-century.

William Aikman's portrait of William Kent,
circa 1723 to 25.  National Portrait Gallery, London.
Image via BGC.
Almost 200 examples of William Kent's work will be on display ranging from his drawings for architecture, gardens, & sculpture to furniture, silver, and paintings, plus his book illustrations.  William Kent, like Robert Adam a generation later, is identified with an entire stylistic period, not just his own work.  Kent developed a style that catered to the rich patrons and collectors, all who had been on the Grand Tour and appreciated his interpretive recreations of Roman palazzi.

The Gallery at Chiswick Villa
in a 1828 watercolor by William Henry Hunt.
Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth.
Image via BGC.
The style known as 'Kentian' features palatial Italianate interiors with walls covered in silk damask or velvet, and richly painted ceilings to showcase gilded architectural tables & mirrors, and Old Master paintings.  Appreciated as a house guest of his patrons, he was affectionately known as 'Kentino.'

A console table, one of a pair, designed by Kent
and carved by John Boson, 1732.
Intended for the Sculpture Gallery at Chiswick,
they were recorded in the 1770 inventory as
being in Lady Burlington's bedroom.
With the other furniture at Chiswick, they passed by
descent to the Dukes of Devonshire, and were moved
to Devonshire House and then to
Chatsworth where the mate remains.
Image:  Victoria & Albert Museum.
The exhibition is divided into sections with parts focusing on country houses such as Houghton Hall, London houses such as Devonshire House (see previous post here), and royal work such as the Cupola Room at Kensington Palace.  Another section is devoted entirely to Holkham Hall, considered to be the finest example of the Palladian revival style in Britain.  The final section focuses on Kent's contributions to the history of landscape and garden design.

A Chinoiserie Garden Temple
designed and drawn by William Kent,
made circa 1730 to 1735.
Image: Victoria & Albert Museum.
Co-curated by Susan Weber of BGC and Julius Bryant of V&A, the exhibit will continue at the Bard until February 9, 2014, before going on to London, March 22 to July 13, 2014.  Susan Weber's book WILLIAM KENT: DESIGNING GEORGIAN BRITAIN may be ordered at substantial savings here.  For more information on all the programs and exhibitions on Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Cultures, see the BGC website.

A detail of a drawing by William Kent for a bracket
to display a bust, made  circa 1730 to 1735.
Image:  Victoria & Albert Museum.


  1. Ah, Kentissimo....the one and only.
    Interesting watercolor by Wm Henry Hunt--it almost makes the gallery
    at Chiswick look cozy. And Chiswick for all its beauty is one of the few houses where it is nearly impossible to imagine just how it was actually lived in.

    1. T.W., I understand your point. And how I would love the opportunity to comfortably furnish a new house with the architectural design based on Chiswick. The possibilities!

      And speaking of familiar terms, your friends ever call you Worthie?

      Thanks for your comments.

  2. I remember the post on the Devonshire House- I was always struck by the "brutalist" façade which gave no hint as to the treasures it held

    1. T., I am a fan of very severe classicism, so I would have probably liked it even better before the Decimus Burton portico was added. But interior treasures indeed; that staircase must have been truly a conversation piece. Thanks for commenting.

  3. LOVE the console table and the Sienna Marble top...I once did a bath in slab Sienna, rare to find such deep gold with veining ala Entrance Hall at Marblehouse but I did...had a special die cut to create a shelf edge with Roman Ogee edge beneath about 50" high. Sold the home 4 years later to new owners who demolished it to replace with a Four Seasons Spa style look. Go figure.
    Chiswick is it a Pavilion, Temple, Secret Club, House...still a quagmire, but always fascinatingly gorgeous. The Late Charles Ryskamp, formerly of The Frick, stayed there when in London in those heady early days of not so long ago but now long gone...and had a LOVE and affinity for this Sacred Jewel of Palladio inspiration. He had Bernd Dams and Andrew Zega of ARCHITECTURALWATERCOLORS do a small rendering of a Garden Urn...which I enjoy immensely as Charles was a great man and Andrew and Bernd are WONDERFUL SOULS.

    1. T.S., my first project when I opened my own office was an extensive renovation of a house with a beautiful Master Bathroom dating from the 1920s. The principal marble was Sienna (yellow) and the floor was Carrara (white) with Sienna cabochons. The main space was paneled in a simple Louis XVI style, but painted the same yellow as the marble in the last redecoration by a well-known designer who was generally faultless but it did not work here. As an overreaction by the new decorator, a famous but horrible person whose name will never appear on this blog, the owners were convinced that Sienna marble was an impossible choice for a bathroom. Granted, it is seldom seen, so I am happy to hear of your choosing it for your tub. I have no doubt it was absolutely stunning. Thank you for commenting.

    2. DC, It was the ENTIRE Master Bath, using the Sienna as a wainscoting with Thassos flooring, Sherle Wagner freestanding marble sink console on gilt bronze legs and gilt bronze fixtures. The tub was placed center by a window I moved on the wall and under mounted within the same Sienna surround and slab Thassos top...I used a pale pale dove gray paint for the walls and hung a Gilt 18thC carved wooden chandelier of 4 arms each terminating in Eagle heads. LVI style! The horrible person you mention is most likely on the same sinking Lifeboat of Taste as the horrible new owners of my old home.


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