Tag Archive | William Kent

William Kent: His Story

William Kent (1685-1748) was an eminent architect, landscape designer, and furniture designer in the early eighteenth century. He was responsible for introducing the Palladian style of architecture as well as the “natural” style of gardening known as the “English landscape garden” into England.

In his first job as a sign and coach painter, Kent showed so much promise that a group of Yorkshire gentlemen provided the financial backing for a Grand Tour, where he painted, studied art, and was inspired by the palaces of Andrea Palladio in Venice. While his painting career did not flourish, he was fortunate to meet Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of  Burlington, “the architect earl,” who eventually assisted him in obtaining many major architectural commissions. After their return to England, the pair got along so well that Kent lived with the Burlington family for thirty years while they pursued their ideals for bringing the classical arts and Palladian architecture to England.

Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington

Kent worked on many public, private, and royal architectural commissions, serving as “Principal Painter in Ordinary” to George II from 1723-1748. Holkham Hall (see below) is “the most complete embodiment of Palladian ideals still to be found” (Wikipedia). His beautiful interiors can still be seen at Kensington Palace and Chiswick House, among others.

Landscape architecture

The Grand Tour, specifically Greece and Italy, proved to be the most significant factor in influencing the fine arts in Georgian England.

Kent, with Pliny’s garden in mind, transformed Stowe, Chiswick and Rousham into “landscapes worthy of an idealised pastoral painting by Lorrain.” Philip Southcote said that the Kent-Burlington partnership was responsible for ‘the fine natural taste in gardening.”

Chiswick

In 1733, Kent took the garden at Burlington’s new villa with its Palladian bathing house, Doric column, and Tuscan portico, and added a semi-dome of

clipped yews, to which he relocated antique statues from Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli. Most importantly for the development of the landscape garden, however, was the opening up of vistas in the groves to take in contrived views of the temples, statues and urns. This advance in gardening was received with great acclaim, and soon “No nobleman’s Gardens were thought to be of Taste unless Mr. Kent had dispos’d or planted them.’ English estates quickly filled up with similar classical features, as the upper classes rushed to assert their wealth and cultural authority through their choice of patronage.

Chiswick House, cascade

 

Chiswick House

Stowe

For his first ever landscape commission in 1731, Kent created the Temple of Venus, for which he painted provocative scenes Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen. Cobham, Stowe’s owner, was a leading Whig politician, so for the next several years, Kent embellished the property with political satire. In 1734, he enclosed forty acres of the estate to create the Elysian Fields, where he designed the Temple of British Worthies, which includes busts of famous historical persons such as Elizabeth I and Alfred the Great, and the Temple of Ancient Virtue. Across the water was a view of the Temple of Modern Virtues, with a statue of the decapitated Robert Walpole.

Temple of British Worthies, Stowe

…Kent was primarily employed to soften the rigid formalism of Stowe’s existing grounds, and transformed a disconnected series of garden features into a landscaped Arcadia of glimpsed views. To this end, he thinned the many harsh, axial avenues of trees.

Interestingly, it was Capability Brown who supervised the implementation of Kent’s designs for the Elysian fields, his first major commission. The River Styx “wound its way through a series of irregularly sited buildings and planted groves, furthering the fashion for naturalisation.”

Rousham

The trend toward escapist gardens which idealized “the pastoral bliss of ancient Rome” continued into the 1760’s, in stride with the political dominance of the Whigs. Rousham “is frequently hailed as representing the culmination of Kent’s Arcadian vision.”

The circuit walk at Rousham was a prototype of effective planting. It was designed to reveal different views and buildings in a pictorial fashion, including the Temple of Echo and a suggestively nude statue of Antinous, Hadrian’s boy lover. Arguable, Rousham was predisposed for its transformation into an informal Arcadia as the grounds curved naturally down to the River Cherwell. With its juxtaposition of Augustan values, castellated farm buildings and even a pyramid, Rousham was paving the way for the eclecticism of the Rococco garden. Most importantly, Kent opened out the views across the river y the addition of a Gothick eye-catcher and mill to the countryside opposite. From Rousham, Dormer [General James Dormer, Rousham’s owner]’s gardener John MacClary could enjoy the outward prospect of Carriers, Wagons, Gentlemen’s Equipages, Women riding, men walking.’ The Kentian landscape garden was as much about the enjoyment of outward views as it was an inward looking place of retreat. The fence had been well and truly leapt.

Kent “was a painter, an architect, and the father of modern gardening. In the first character he was below mediocrity; in the second, he was a restorer of the science; in the last, an original, and the inventor of an art that realizes painting and improves nature. Mahomet imagined an elysium, Kent created many.”

Horace Walpole

Holkham Hall

 

Kensington Palace

 

Kensington Palace

Source:

Mayer, Laura, Capability Brown and the English Landscape Garden, 2011, Shire Publications Ltd.

Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency

Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes

John Timbs

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

This particular book is available at googlebooks for free in ebook form. Or you can pay for a print version.

Carlton1

The frontage of Carlton House

Carlton House and the Regency

The Prince Regent’s residence at Carlton House is another place frequently mentioned in historical fiction that is no longer in existence. I had heard that it burned down, but Timbs reports the following:

Carlton House having grown dingy in its fittings, and its history prompting many disagreeable associations, the King projected the enlargement and eventually the rebuilding of Buckingham House; Carlton House was taken down in 1826; the columns of the portico have been transferred to the National Gallery. The exact site of this palace of a century is now the opening between the York Column and the foot of Regent Street.

Plan_of_Carlton_Palace_in_1821

Plan showing the main floor and the suite of reception rooms on the lower ground floor

 Origins

Carlton House, as a royal palace, existed for nearly a century, and was the scene of many important state events, as well as of much prodigality and bad taste. The house, which fronted St. Alban’s Street and St. James’s Park, was originally built by Henry Boyles, Baron Carlton, on a piece of ground leased to him by Queen Anne, in 1709, at 35l. a year; it is described as “parcel of the Royal Garden, near St. James’s Palace,” and “the wood-work and wilderness adjoining.” From Lord Carlton the house and grounds descended to his nephew, Lord Burlington, the architect: he bested it, in 1732, upon his mother, the Countess Dowager of Burlington, who, in the same year, transferred it to Frederick, Prince of Wales, father of George III. The House was a building of red brick, with wings, and was afterwards cased with stone by Sir Robert Taylor. In Lord Burlington’s time, the grounds, which ran westward as far as Marlborough House, were laid out by Kent, in imitation of Pope’s garden at Twickenham. There is a large and fine engraving of the grounds by Woollett; bowers, grottoes, and terminal busts abounding.

Under the Prince Regent (George IV)

When, in 1783, the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV, was allowed a separate establishment, Carlton House was assigned for his residence, and Holland, the architect, was called in, and added the chief features,—the Ionic screen and the Corinthian portico, fronting Pall Mall. [Horace] Walpole writes to the Countess of Ossor, in the autumn of 1785:

We went to see the Prince’s new palace in Pall Mall; and were charmed. It will be the most perfect in Europe. There is an august simplicity that astonished me. You cannot call it magnificent: it is the taste and propriety that strike. Every ornament is at a proper distance and not one too large, but all delicate and now, with more freedom and variety than Greek ornaments… As Gobert [French architect]… designed the decorations, I expected a more tawdry assemblage of fantastic vagaries than in Mrs. Cornelys’s masquerade-rooms. [Teresa Cornelys, operatic soprano, held many fashionable gatherings at Carlisle House, had many lovers, and bore a child of Casanova.]… There are three most spacious apartments, all looking on the lovely garden, a terrace, the state apartment, and an attic. The portico, vestibule, hall, and staircase will be superb, and, to my taste, full of perspectives; the jewel of all is a small music-room, that opens into a green recess and winding walk of the garden… I forgot to tell you how admirably all the carving, stucco, and ornaments are executed; but whence the money is to come I conceive not—all the tin mines of Cornwall would not pay a quarter. How sick one shall be after this chaste palace, of Mr. Adam’s [Robert Adam, popular 18th century architect] gingerbread and sippets of embroidery!

561px-CarltonStaircase

The main staircase, from Pyne’s Royal Residences (1819)

Timbs’s later assessment was not so kind. He says that the conservatory, “imitated from Henry VII’s Chapel, was a failure,” the blue velvet draperies “heavy and dark”; and the “Gothic dining-room was poor.” He found the armory to be “the most curious collection of arms in the world, [filling] four rooms.”

Here was John Hamden’s sword, said to be the work of Cellini; and a golden throne of the King of Candy was backed with a sun of diamonds and precious stones. Here, too, were arms from all nations—caps, boots, spurs, turbans, shields, bows, dresses, models of horses, helmets, sabres, swords, daggers, canopies, palanquins, guns, coats of mail, and other costly presents from all parts of the world.

In the plate-room were some fine specimens of King Charles’s plate; other plate was disposed in the centre of the room, in columns of gold and silver plates, and dishes, and drawers filled with gold and silver knives, forks, spoons, &c.…

The palace was superbly fitted for the Prince’s marriage: 26,000l. Was voted for furnishing, 28,000l. For jewels and plate, and 27,000l for the expense of the marriage. Here was born the Princess Charlotte, January 16, 1796, and the baptism took place on February 11; here, also, the Princess was married, May 2, 1816.

The Fête of June 19, 1811

The most magnificent State event of the Regency was the event given at Carlton House on June 19, 1811, being then the only experiment ever made to give a supper to 2,000 of the nobility and gentry. Covers were laid for 400 in the palace, and for 1,600 in the pavilions and gardens. The fête was attended by Louis XVIII, and the French princes then in exile; and a vast assemblage of beauty, rank, and fashion. The saloon at the foot of the staircase represented a bower with a grotto, lined with a profusion of shrubs and flowers. The grand table extended the whole length of the conservatory, and across Carlton House to the length of 200 feet. Along the centre of the table, about six inches above the surface, a canal of pure water continued flowing from a silver fountain, beautifully constructed at the head of the table. Its banks were covered with green moss and aquatic flowers; gold and silver fish swam and sported through the bubbling current, which produced a pleasing murmur where it fell, and formed a cascade at the outlet. At the head of the table, above the fountain, sat His Royal Highness the Prince Regent on a plain mahogany chair with a feather back. The most particular friends of the Prince were arranged on each side. They were attended by sixty servitors; seven waited on the Prince, besides six of the King’s, and six of the Queen’s footmen, in their state liveries, with one man in a complete suit of ancient armour.

600px-Saint-George_D'Eon_Robineau

Fencing Match between Chevalier de Saint-Georges and ‘La chevalière D’Eon’ on April 9, 1787 in Carlton House, painting by Charles Jean Robineau

Historical tidbit

Timbs mentions that the portico of Carlton House was the site of the “first public application of the newly-invented lighting by gas.”

Author’s Reflections

I’m thinking the fête might come in hand for a scene in my next story—as an example of the decadence and excess of the Prince Regent. What do you think?

 

Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse