William Kent (1685 - 1748)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

Painter, designer, architect and gardener, William Kent was one of the most wide-ranging talents in 18th century Britain.

Kent was born into a modest family in Bridlington, Yorkshire in 1686, but found sufficient local patronage to allow him to travel to Italy. At a time when there was little in the way of formal artistic training in Britain, study in Italy was crucial for Kent’s artistic aspirations. Kent lived in Italy between 1709 and 1719, where he studied with Giuseppe Chiari, a student of Carlo Maratta. In Italy he also encountered the third earl of Burlington and Thomas Coke of Holkham, both of whom became important patrons for Kent.

On his return to London, Kent quickly became part of Burlington’s circle (which also included the poet Alexander Pope and the composer Handel) – his paintings Banquet of the Gods and Assembly of the Gods, now in the RA collection, were painted for Burlington. Kent received a prestigious commission to decorate a room in Kensington Palace in 1722 in preference to Sir James Thornhill. This at once set up opposing camps: the Italianate reformers in Burlington’s circle and the native British tradition favoured by Thornhill, his son-in-law William Hogarth, and their associates.

While trained as a painter, back in England Kent became interested in architecture and gardening. His architectural work was broadly in the Palladian style associated with Burlington, and included Holkham Hall in Norfolk (for Coke), the Horse Guards and Treasury buildings in London. His gardening, meanwhile, moved away from the formal gardens which preceded him, towards the more natural layouts later favoured by Capability Brown. Kent also designed furniture and interior schemes to complement his idiosyncratic buildings, which all show a painter’s eye brought to bear on the built environment.


Born: 1685

Died: 12 April 1748

Gender: Male

Works by William Kent in the RA Collection

20 results

Works after William Kent in the RA Collection

5 results

Works associated with William Kent in the RA Collection

14 results

Associated books

15 results

Associated archives

3 results