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William Kent:
Artist, Architect and
Garden Designer

Report of the lecture
given by Caroline Knight BA MA
on May 22nd 2013

Our Chairman was not alone, when, introducing the subject for the lecture by Caroline Knight, he confessed to a certain lack of knowledge about William Kent.  We were also unaware of his work but were soon to become well acquainted with the diverse talents and accomplishments of this Artist, Architect and Garden Designer and wonder, previously, how we could have been so unaware of his contributions to so many of our “National Treasures”.

Caroline initially took us through many examples of Kent’s work from the improvements to the Towers and Wings at Badminton House to a wonderful table designed for Sir Robert Walpole at Houghton Hall featuring Cornucopia and a Bacchus Mask, via a chandelier created for King George II, book illustrations for James Thompson’s poem “Spring” and a sarcophagus which had been bought by a patron on a Grand Tour and for which Kent had  created a clever design resulting in it being mounted on black balls and placed on a marble plinth.

As Caroline shared with us examples of his work we soon began to realise that Kent had possessed an ability to turn his hand to fulfil almost any artistic challenge.  His early employer had encouraged him to study art, design and architecture and in 1709 he was sent to Rome for a period of study.  He had a genius for getting on with people, being relaxed and easy going and in Italy his charming ways endeared him to many future patrons.  He was influenced by many of the ruins of Ancient Rome and the gardens that he visited.  Grottoes, sculptured trees, statues, white marble against green hedges and water features would all become part of his creative thinking when commissions came his way.

Lord Burlington of Holkham Hall was perhaps the most influential person that he met.  His invitation to “Come and join my household and I will promote your work” resulted in Kent working with him for 29 years.

Amongst the many fine examples of his architectural work and furniture and interior design that we particularly liked were his contributions to Burlington House, Houghton Hall and Chiswick House.

Horace Walpole, a great admirer of Kent, stated “He leaped the fence and saw all nature in the garden” and this was evident in Caroline’s images of Rousham.  We plan to visit the garden as it seems to be one of the finest examples of his redesigns.  Here Kent made a garden of immense variety making use of steep slopes, creating an arcade, a great arch on the hill, a watery walk, plunge pool and alcoves with benches painted in soft grey and picked out in white.

As a result of Caroline’s enthusiastic and most enjoyable talk on a multi talented man, our other planned visit is to an exhibition of his work in London early next year.  We look forward to furthering our knowledge of William Kent: Artist, Architect and Garden Designer.

Marian and Barrie Heathcote

Related Links (open in new windows):

Caroline Knight's website

Badminton House
Houghton Hall
Holkham Hall
Burlington House
Chiswick House
Rousham House & Gardens