William Kent (born in Bridlington, Yorkshire, c. 1685 – 12 April 1748) was an eminent English architect, landscape architect and furniture designer of the early 18th century.
Kent's career began as a sign and coach painter who was encouraged to study art, design and architecture by his employer. A group of Yorkshire gentlemen sent Kent for a period of study in Rome
, where he met Thomas Coke, later 1st Earl of Leicester
, with whom he toured Northern Italy in the summer of 1714 (a tour that led Kent to an appreciation of the architectural style of Andrea Palladio
's palaces in Vicenza
), and Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington
, who took him back to England in 1719. As a painter, he displaced Sir James Thornhill
in decorating the new state rooms at Kensington Palace
, London; for Burlington, he decorated Chiswick House
and Burlington House
He is better remembered as the central architect of the revived Palladian
style in England. Burlington gave him the task of editing The Designs of Inigo Jones...
with some additional designs in the Palladian/Jonesian taste by Burlington and Kent, which appeared in 1727. As he rose through the royal architectural establishment, the Board of Works, Kent applied this style to several public buildings in London
, for which Burlington's patronage secured him the commissions: the Royal Mews
at Charing Cross
(1731–33, demolished in 1830), the Treasury buildings in Whitehall
(1733–37), the Horse Guards building
in Whitehall, (designed shortly before his death and built 1750–1759). These neo-antique buildings were inspired as much by the architecture of Raphael
and Giulio Romano
as by Palladio.
In country house building, major commissions for Kent were designing the interiors of Houghton Hall (c.1725–35), recently built by Colen Campbell for Sir Robert Walpole, but at Holkham Hall the most complete embodiment of Palladian ideals is still to be found; there Kent collaborated with Thomas Coke, the other "architect earl", and had for an assistant Matthew Brettingham, whose own architecture would carry Palladian ideals into the next generation. A theatrically Baroque staircase and parade rooms in London, at 44 Berkeley Square, are also notable. Kent's domed pavilions were erected at Badminton House and at Euston Hall.
Kent could provide sympathetic Gothic designs, free of serious antiquarian tendencies, when the context called; he worked on the Gothic screens in Westminster Hall and Gloucester Cathedral.
As a landscape designer, Kent was one of the originators of the English landscape garden
, a style of 'natural' gardening that revolutionised the laying out of gardens and estates. His projects included Stowe, Buckinghamshire
, from about 1730 onwards, designs for Alexander Pope
's villa garden at Twickenham
, for Queen Caroline
and notably at Rousham House
, Oxfordshire, where he created a sequence of Arcadian set-pieces punctuated with temples, cascades, grottoes, Palladian bridges and exedra
, opening the field for the larger scale achievements of Capability Brown
in the following generation. His all-but-lost gardens at Claremont
, have recently been restored. It is often said that he was not above planting dead trees to create the mood he required.
Kent's only real downfall was said to be his lack of horticultural knowledge and technical skill (which people like Charles Bridgeman possessed - whose impact on Kent is often underestimated), but his naturalistic style of design was his major contribution to the history of landscape design. Claremont, Stowe, and Rousham are places where their joint efforts can be viewed. Stowe and Rousham are Kent's most famous works. At the latter, Kent elaborated on Bridgeman's 1720s design for the property, adding walls and arches to catch the viewer's eye. At Stowe, Kent used his Italian experience, particularly with the Palladian Bridge. At both sites Kent incorporated his naturalistic approach.
His stately furniture designs complemented his interiors: he designed furnishings for Hampton Court Palace
(1732), for Devonshire House
in London, and at Rousham. The royal barge he designed for Frederick, Prince of Wales
can still be seen at the National Maritime Museum
In his own age, Kent's fame and popularity were so great that he was employed to give designs for all things, even for ladies' birthday dresses, of which he could know nothing and which he decorated with the five classical orders of architecture. These and other absurdities drew upon him the satire of William Hogarth who, in October 1725, produced a Burlesque on Kent's Altarpiece at St. Clement Danes.
According to Horace Walpole
, Kent "was a painter, an architect, and the father of modern gardening. In the first character he was below mediocrity; in the second, he was a restorer of the science; in the last, an original, and the inventor of an art that realizes painting and improves nature. Mahomet imagined an elysium, Kent created many."
- Hunt, John Dixon, Garden and Grove: Italian Renaissance Garden and the English Imagination, 1600-1750, London, 1986, and pbk. London and Philadelphia, 1996.
- Hunt, J.D. (1987) William Kent, Landscape garden designer: An Assessment and Catalogue of his designs (London, A. Zwemmer Ltd).
- Jourdain, M. (1948) The Work of William Kent: Artist, Painter, Designer and Landscape Gardener (London, Country Life Limited).
- Mowl, T. (2006) William Kent: Architect, Designer, Opportunist (London, Jonathan Cape).
- Newton, N. (1971). Design of the land. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
- Ross, David (2000). William Kent. Britain Express, 1-2. Retrieved September 26, 2004, from http://www.britainexpress.com/History/bio/kent.htm
- Rogers, E. (2001). Landscape design a cultural and architectural history. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
- Wilson, M.I. (1984) William Kent: Architect, Designer, Painter, Gardener, 1685-1748 (London, Boston, Melbourne and Henley, Routledge & Kegan Paul).