William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain – reviews

Mar 25, 2014

V&A celebrates the 'phenomenal' polymath designer who brought opulence to a beige Georgian Britain

Philadelphia Museum of Art The John Howard McFadden Collection, 1928

What you need to know
A major new exhibition of the design and architecture of William Kent has opened at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain explores the work of 18th-century Britain's leading architect, garden and interior designer and tastemaker.

Kent became so influential his work gave rise to the 'Kentian' style. This exhibition brings together over 200 examples of his projects, including architectural drawings for Horse Guards at Whitehall, furniture from Chiswick House and landscape designs for Holkham Hall. Runs until 13 July.

What the critics like
This V&A homage showcases the work of the Yorkshireman with "polymath talents" and a "magpie-brain", says Jonathan Foyle in the Financial Times. The Kent style celebrated here demonstrates "an outrageously energetic and accomplished command and frequent fusion of all the visual arts known to early 18th-century Britain".

Kent was a "flamboyant figure who brought opulence and flair to a beige Georgian Britain", says Rowan Moore in The Guardian. Kent's buildings are less ends in themselves than a series of theatrical spaces of society, illusion and delight.

Kent demonstrated his "rambunctious genius across many fields, attracting fame and criticism in equal measure", says Ellis Woodman in the Daily Telegraph. As this exemplary exhibition attests, no British designer made a bolder claim on posterity than the phenomenal Kent.

What they don't like
Kent was "an atrocious painter, a so-so architect, a good designer, a great landscape architect and a socialite of genius" who seemed to prefer gusto to taste, says Rowan Moore in the Guardian. But while his camp-kitsch style angered some who thought his social skills won him commissions his artistic skills were not equal to, this exhibition is an essential part of what the V&A should be doing.

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