William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain

V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum)

22 March – 13 July 2014

£4 with National Art Pass (standard entry £8)

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Examining the work of the architect and designer who defined the British aesthetic during the Georgian age.

William Kent was a man of many talents and over the course of his prolific career he worked across painting, sculpture, architecture, interior decoration, furniture, metalwork, book illustration, theatrical design, costume and landscape gardening.

Demonstrating the full extent of his versatility, the display includes nearly 200 items of Kent's work. Architectural drawings for prominent buildings such as the Treasury and Horse Guards at Whitehall are joined by examples of his paintings and illustrated books.

During his early career, as was common among artists at the time, Kent left England to study painting in Rome. This trip had a profound influence on the young designer, fuelling his interest in Italian Baroque art and the architectural style of Andrea Palladio.

It was also in Italy that he met Richard Boyle, third Earl of Burlington, who would become Kent's biggest known patron, securing him several career-defining commissions back in Britain. 

Examples of drawings he made while on the Grand Tour are shown here, including preparatory sketches for early assignments such as his fresco in the Church of an Giuliano dei Fimminghi in Rome. 

However, it was a series of Royal commissions that first brought Kent to wider public attention. On display are the designs he produced for Frederick, Prince of Wales' Royal Barge, Queen Caroline's Library at St. James' Palace and the Hermitage in Richard Gardens, as well as silverware commissions for the Royal palaces in Hanover.

Of all his works, Kent is perhaps best remembered for the designs he produced for Britain's grand country estates. Here items of gilded furniture he made for Chiswick House, Wanstead House and Houghton Hall, are exhibited alongside the detailed drawings he made for these commissions.

Meanwhile new documentary film demonstrates his architectural vision for Houghton as well as his pioneering approach to garden landscaping at Chiswick, Rousham and Stowe.

Don't miss

Kent's projects were crucial to the redesign of Georgian London. Architectural renderings and elevations for the facade of the Horse Guards reveal how his style still endures in the capital today, while there is a rare chance to see designs that were never realised, such as the proposals he submitted for a new House of Parliament and interiors for the House of Lords at Westminster.

Venue information

Opening times

Daily, 10am – 5.45pm (Fri until 10pm)

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