William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain

William Kent

Whilst in Manhattan recently, I was fortunate enough to be able to take in the current Exhibition at the Bard Gallery - William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain, which will move to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from March 22 to July 13, 2014.

The Exhibition contains nearly 200 examples of Kent's elaborate drawings for architecture, gardens, and sculpture, along with furniture, silver, paintings, illustrated books and new documentary films. As most of his best-known surviving works are in Britain’s great country houses, the exhibition is rich in loans from private as well as public collections.

As the Exhibition website tells us: "Kent devised a style that catered to the Grand Tour alumni, recreating the splendors of Roman palazzi. A jovial house guest of his patrons, ‘Kentino’ (as he was affectionately known) and his creations reminded them of the best days of their lives, before they returned, inherited, and dutifully managed their old family estates." Kent's notebooks and drawings kept during his own time in Italy form a part of the current Exhibition and it was fascinating to see these items, written in his own centuries ago, up close.

You may recall a recent post on this blog on Devonshire House in London and, if so, you'll know how delighted I was to find items from the House included in the Kent Exhibition.

Door and surround from the East Drawing Room (later the dining room), Devonshire House

Lord Burlington is the best- known today of several patrons who embraced Kent's design ideals and Kent lived in his London townhouse, Burlington House (today the home of the Royal Academy) for most of his life and was also, in effect, artist-in-residence at Burlington’s new Italianate villa at Chiswick.

Armchair for Devonshire House William Kent. Armchair for Devonshire House William Kent 1733-40. Carved gilt wood, modern upholstery.

As Victoria reminded me, some of the Devonshire House items were sold as part of the Chatsworth Attic Sale held at Sotheby's in 2010, which included some 20,000 items from the Duke of Devonshire's home. You can read all about that sale here. And you will find prices realized here. The sale brought in over six million pounds in total.

Of Kent's public works, the exhibition examines 10 Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, the Horse Guards at Whitehall, and the Royal Mews. One section is devoted to Holkham Hall, designed with the assistance of Lord Burlington for Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, who was among Kent’s most important patrons. You can read Victoria's post on her visit to Holkham Hall here.

There is a book that's been published to coincide with the Exhibition entitled William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain, edited by Susan Weber, and published with Yale University Press,
presents twenty-one essays by leading scholars of eighteenth-century British art and design, including Julius Bryant (co-curator), Geoffrey Beard, John Harris, John Dixon Hunt, Frank Salmon, and David Watkin. The book is richly illustrated with over 600 color images, including the pieces featured in the exhibition. A chronology of Kent’s projects, an exhibition checklist, and an extensive bibliography round out this scholary publication.

You can read more about the Exhibition on the Bard Graduate Center website here.