Britain’s first designer William Kent
If you walk down The Mall past Horseguard’s Parade, or down Whitehall past the Treasury you will be passing two buildings by the Georgian architectural genius William Kent. There was pretty much Kent, who rose to fame at the beginning of George I’s reign (1714), could not do; as well as an architect, he was a landscape designer, painter and designer of costume, books, furniture and interiors. He was besotted by Italy and all things Italian. In short, Signor Kentino, as he called himself, gave the nation the look we all now know as ‘Georgian’, most perfectly expressed in the architecture of Bath.
The new show at the V&A on Kent will unpick his genius. If his houses reflected Italian palaces, his gardens echoed a pastoral idyll, not a formal row of hedges; his drawings for gardens are more poetic evocations of Elysium, than detailed horticultural plans.
He was the first British designer to envisage the interior of a room as a whole, including drawings of fireplaces, furnishings and mantlepieces into his designs. A newly educated Georgian society loved him. It thrived in his elegant rooms, so much more European in style than they were used to, and pleasured in its decorative, urban sophistication.
Kent had the good fortune to be born in the right place, at the right time. His life coincided with a boom in country house building and a new Royal dynasty keen for its own ‘look’. George I and II both commissioned him to create public buildings and state rooms, and his colossal mansions include Holkham Hall in Norfolk.
Covering over three decades of his work and including 200 examples of his designs for architecture, gardens and the decorative arts, this show will examine why Kent was so supremely successful and unpick how he so brilliantly came up with an entirely new style for British society.