“Kent’s versatility and artistic inventiveness set the style of his age.”

William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain explored Kent’s work over four decades (1709–48)—a period when Britain was defining itself as a new nation and overtaking France as a leading world power. Like Robert Adam a generation later, Kent is identified not only with his own prolific and diverse output but also with an entire period style. At a time when most patrons and collectors looked to Italy for their art and design, Kent’s versatility and artistic inventiveness set the style of his age and asserted the status of the modern British artist. From a time when no refined education was complete without the Grand Tour to Italy, the word ‘Kentian’ has come to denote rich, Italianate palatial interiors furnished with gilded sculptural tables, mirrors, and Old Master paintings, elaborately presented on walls lined with the richest silk damasks and velvets, and beneath painted ceilings. 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.

William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain, on view at the Bard Graduate Center: Decorative Arts, Design History, Material Culture from September 20, 2013 to February 9, 2014, was the first major exhibition to examine the life and career of one of the most influential designers in eighteenth-century Britain. Visitors discovered Kent’s genius, through nearly 200 examples of his elaborate drawings for architecture, gardens, and sculpture, along with furniture, silver, paintings, illustrated books, and through new documentary films. As most of his best-known surviving works are in Britain’s great country houses, the exhibition was rich in loans from private as well as public collections. Organized by the Bard Graduate Center in collaboration with the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, it traveled to the V&A where it was on view from March 22 to July 13, 2014.

Curated by Susan Weber, Bard Graduate Center founder and director, and Julius Bryant, Keeper of Word and Image at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

William Kent at Houghton Hall, William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain

Kent’s Gardens, William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain