Last week I spent 90 minutes at the current V&A exhibition reading about William Kent, the friend of Lord Burlington & Thomas Coke, among others, who was an integral part of the popularising of the Anglo-Palladian style during the first half of the 18th century.
Il signor Kentino, as his friends sometimes referred to him (for his love of Italy and penchant for breaking into Italian: he spent 10 years on Italy, studying and assisting those on the Grand Tour), was the real Robert Adam: they both had a flair for designing the whole shabang: the house, the furniture, the interior decor and the garden.
Do I remember him as the son of a carpenter from Bridlington (of no particular means but whose education in Italy was funded by Yorkshire patrons who hoped he would become the next Raphael (he has a fair hand, but not a fantastic one))?
Do I remember him for his poor grammar (as highlighted in one of the letters at the V&A’s exhibition, written to Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington)?
Do I remember him for his use of scrolls, gilt and shells in his furniture?
Do I remember him for his magnificent picture frames, especially those at Houghton Hall?
Do I remember him for his work on Horse Guard’s Parade?
Do I remember him for the fact that he was the tool by which Lord Burlington responded to Lord Shaftesbury’s call for nobel Englishmen to dedicate themselves to popularising the arts, culminating in the prize piece of Chiswick House, exhibiting the Anglo Palladian style in full glory?
I try to ignore his dabbling in the Gothic (although should I think of him for his sculpture of Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey)?
Did I chuckle at the satire of Hogarth in putting Kent on the top of the gates to Burlington House, high above Raphael and Michelangelo, aptly missing the U from his name (which I’m told when said had the same meaning then as it does now)?
What I remember him for his is identity as a polymath. Jack of All Trades. What he a master of any or all? You decide. All I’ll say is that I’d rather I were born in 1720 than 1750.
Where you can see William Kent’s work:
- Chiswick House
- Houghton Hall – the interiors
- Holkham Hall
- Kensington Palace – e.g. the King’s Stair
- Stowe gardens
- Claremont Landscape Gardens
When visited: March 2014