The Gallery, Chiswick House by William Henry Hunt (1790–1864), 1828. Watercolor. © Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth; reproduced by permission of the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees.
The Bard Graduate Center (BGC) and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum are presenting another of their comprehensive examinations of a renowned and versatile English designer. William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain, now at the BGC, and its accompanying gigantic catalogue reveal Kent’s genius through nearly 200 drawings for architecture, gardens, and sculpture, along with examples of his furniture, silver, paintings, and illustrated books.
Divided into ten sections, the exhibition introduces specific aspects of Kent’s work including private and royal commissions. The first section is devoted to his life and times. The second focuses on his formative years, when he made the Grand Tour of Italy and encountered the baroque fine and decorative arts that left a lasting impression on him, and where he met his longtime mentor and collaborator Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington. Together they became early adaptors of the late Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio’s designs, which they formed into the Anglo-Palladian style that came to define the Georgian era.
Kent conceived and created fully integrated interiors—from the architecture, painting, and furniture to the sculpture and decoration—for England’s grand country houses and for public buildings and private residences in London. His drawings, plans, and examples of his furniture designed specifically for some of these interiors are featured. For example, Holkham Hall in Norfolk, representing Kent and Lord Burlington’s collaboration and considered one of the finest examples of the Palladian revival style, is explored through drawings and an elaborately carved and gilded settee.
Console table, one of a pair for Chiswick House by William Kent (1685–1748), probably carved by John Boson (active 1720–after 1743), c. 1727–1732. Gilt pine, Siena marble top. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Another section is devoted to designs for royal commissions, including ones for George II and his son Frederick, Prince of Wales, and Queen Caroline. A somewhat unusual barge ordered by Frederick is represented by Kent’s design and a detailed model. Also on view are several extraordinary pieces of silver, including a large epergne made for Frederick and a chandelier commissioned by George II.
Other sections examine Kent’s ability to work in other mediums and styles and include illustrations for books, notably an edition of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and his Gothic designs for Hampton Court and Esher Place. The final section examines his contributions to landscape and garden design.
The exhibition travels to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where it will be on view from March 22 to July 13, 2014.