Kent, William

views updated May 18 2018

Kent, William (c.1685–1748). English painter, designer, landscape-architect, and architect. He was taken up by the nobility early in his career, and travelled to Rome (from 1709), where he made the acquaintance of many English grandees, including Lord Burlington, whose protégé he became. Kent edited the Designs of Inigo Jones with some Additional Designs (1727), the ‘additions’ being by Burlington and himself, and drawn by Flitcroft. Kent did not practise as an architect until the 1730s, at a time when the second Palladian Revival was in full swing, but he was not stylistically restricted, for some of his schemes of interior decorations (and his furniture-designs) are sumptuous, looking back towards the Baroque he had admired in Italy: 22 Arlington Street (1741) and 44 Berkeley Square (1742–4—with a noble staircase), both in London, contained some of his most successful interiors. Burlington got his man into the Office of Works in 1726, and in 1735 Kent became Master-Mason and Deputy Surveyor. His best-known works are the Treasury Buildings (1733–7) and the Horse Guards Building (1748–59—completed by Vardy), both in Whitehall, London, but he also designed several fabriques at Stowe, Bucks. (including the Temple of Venus (before 1732), the Temple of Ancient Virtue (c.1734), the celebrated Temple of British Worthies (c.1735), Congreve's Monument (1736), and other buildings). Of considerable significance in the history of Palladianism was Holkham Hall, Norfolk (1734–65), for which M. Brettingham was the executive architect. Holkham is the most splendid Palladian house in England (Burlington had a hand in its design): its lavish marble apsidal entrance-hall (an amalgam of a Roman basilica and a Vitruvian Egyptian Hall), with a coffered ceiling and a magnificent stair leading to the piano-nobile level, is one of the grandest rooms of the period. The exterior of the house is an excellent example of concatenation, of which Kent was a master (e.g. Horse Guards Building, London).

Kent was an important figure in garden-history, for he was in the vanguard of the revolution against the formal gardens of the C17, and combined Palladian architecture with the contrived ‘naturalness’ of the park. He created landscapes that were comparable to the pictures of Claude or Poussin (as at Rousham, Oxon. (1738–41)), and so must be regarded as a pioneer of the Picturesque in English landscape-design, and indeed was in the vanguard of the movement in opposition to the formal garden of C17. He also designed in the Gothick style, notably the choir-screen, Gloucester Cathedral (1741—destroyed), and the pulpit at York Minster (1741—burned, 1829), published by John Vardy (1744), which may have been the source of some of the Gothick elements in St John's Church, Shobdon, Herefs. (1746–56).

Kent's mastery of the Baroque style may best be seen in his funerary monuments, e.g. the huge memorial to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722), in Blenheim Palace Chapel, Oxon., carved by John Michael Rysbrack (1694–1770), of 1730–3.


Colvin (1995);
Cruickshank (ed.) (1985);
J. Curl (2002a);
Gunnis (1968);
Hunt (1987);
M. McCarthy (1987);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
Hunt & Willis (eds.) (1989);
Jane Turner (1996);
M. Wilson (1984)

Kent, William

views updated Jun 08 2018

Kent, William (1685–1748). Architect, painter, furniture designer, and landscape architect. In 1719 Kent was brought back to London from Rome by Lord Burlington, and together they became the leading proponents of Palladianism in England. In 1727, with Burlington's support, Kent published The Designs of Inigo Jones (though most of the designs were by Webb). Although Kent, as a member of the Board of Works, designed the Horse Guards, the Royal Mews, and the Treasury buildings, most of his architecture was for private clients. A notable instance of this was his collaboration with Burlington at Holkham Hall, Norfolk (1734 onwards, executed by Brettingham), with its ‘staccato’ elevations with Venetian windows, and its dramatic apsidal entrance hall with columns, coffered ceiling, and grand staircase. Here, as in other places, Kent's elegant furniture and rich decoration anticipated the interiors of Robert Adam. Significant too are Kent's illustrations for Gay's Fables (1727), Thomson's The Seasons (1730), and Spenser's Faerie Queene (1751), and his garden buildings and progressive landscaping at Chiswick, Rousham, Stowe, and Claremont. In Horace Walpole's words, as Bridgeman's successor, Kent ‘leapt the fence, and saw that all nature was a garden’.

Peter Willis

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