William Kent was Georgian Britain’s most celebrated designer. His bold artistic vision was responsible for a revolution in British building and interior design. Kent started his career as a sign painter in his native Yorkshire. He later travelled to Italy to study art and design, where the ornate Baroque palaces proved a significant influence. He brought this style back to England, satisfying a nostalgia among the aristocracy for their grand tours of Europe.
Kent’s Italianate style came to be closely associated with British identity at the start of the Hanoverian dynasty. The newly-installed (and distinctly German) monarchy associated themselves closely with Kent in order to ingratiate themselves with their subjects. He enjoyed the Royal Family’s patronage for the duration of his career.
Designing Georgian Britain provides a comprehensive survey of Kent’s remarkable abilities and output. He excelled at any art form to which he turned his hand, including painting, furniture design, interior design, architecture and landscape gardening. Kent became known for opulence, glamour and showmanship, but unfortunately, the exhibition fails to adequately capture these qualities.
Individual pieces dazzle - notably the beautiful inlaid marble tabletops - but by isolating them from Kent’s original interiors and presenting them on a matte grey backdrop, they feel a little lost. There are also far too many etchings and drawings. While this provides an interesting insight into his work, you’d get a much better idea of Kent’s accomplishments by visiting one of the buildings he worked on, like Chiswick House or Hampton Court Palace.
For more art in plain English, check out http://www.curatedlondon.co.uk