Copyright (c) 2013 Mathew Jenkins
He made another journey to Italy in 1730. By the patronage of the Queen, of the Dukes of Grafton and Newcastle, and of Henry Pelham, and by the interest of his friend, "he was made master carpenter, architect, keeper of the pictures, and, after the death of Gervas, principal painter to the Crown ; the whole, including a pension of ,6 loo a year, which was given him for his works at Kensington, producing £600 a year." He was buried by his own desire in Lord Burlington's family vault at Chiswick Church, and from his will we know that he had a house in Sackville Street, and that he was on friendly terms with the Boyle, Cavendish, and Pelham families, to whom he leaves many pictures and objets d'art. Elizabeth Butler, the "actress with whom he had long lived in terms of peculiar friendship," of the parish of St Paul, Covent Garden, is given the sum of £600; his sister an annuity of £50, while the rest of his estate is divided between his nephew and nieces.
With his architecture, his innovations in warden design, his pictures (which found small favour with such diverse critics as Howarth, Hoarse Walpole and Lord Chesterfield) we are not here concerned, but solely with his decorations. He decorated not only buildings which he designed such as Holkham, the Chiswick Villa, Devonshire House, Worcester Lodge, and the wings of Rousham, a house for Mr Pelham in Arlington Street (now the Earl of Yarborough's), a house in Berkeley Square for Lady Isabella Finch (No. 44) but was responsible for certain rooms at Kensington Palace and Hampton Court, for alterations to Raynham (which Sir Thomas Robinson, writing in 1731, described as having been "lately sashed and prettily ornamented on the inside by Mr Kent"), for additions and decorations at Badminton and Stowe, and the interior of Houghton. Other houses which were not decorated by him had chimneypieces of his design, such as Easton Neston.) Two of his designs for decoration are illustrated, a sketch for the library at Holkharn, and one for the cube or cupola room in Kensington Palace (Fig. 12), of which the ceiling was finished in 1722. Like Robert Adam, Kent set his stamp upon the entire decoration of his period, and became a designer of ornament of every kind: His style, says Walpole, pre­dominated authoritatively during his life. He was consulted not only for furniture but for plate, for a cradle, for a barge. He was the fashionable oracle, and so " impetuous " was the fashion that two great ladies prevailed on him to make designs for their birthday gowns. "The one he dressed in a petticoat decorated with columns of the five orders, the other like a bronze, in copper-coloured satin with ornaments of gold."
That his style predominated is the more surprising when we consider the small number of houses he decorated. Even before his death, the rococo style (in which he had never designed) to a great extent superseded his manner; but the early designs of Robert Adam, who returned to England a decade after Kent's death, are so closely allied to his that it is quite possible to consider the younger man as his successor in the English tradition, leaving on one side fashions such as the Chinese and the revived Gothic. Indeed there is less divergence between the decoration of Kent and Adam than there is between the Adam of 176o, and of 1780 when, by the aid of his Italian assistants and other influences, he had developed the style by which he is now invariably known and judged, the style of `f filagraine and fan-painting' criticised by Horace NN,' alpole, whose taste had been formed on " Kent and grandeur."
The Palladians followed Inigo Jones, with his few and supreme achievements in domestic architecture. The interior decoration of Wren, like his architecture, was not adopted, partly because there was a tendency in men like Colin Campbell to discredit his architectural work. Vanbrugh stands between the two schools, but, though showing the influence of the eighteenth century in the secondary position of wainscot in decoration, he had little influence upon the Palladians. His manner was too massive and theatrical for their taste, his detail too coarse. In the hands of Kent the interior decoration is modelled very closely upon that of Inigo Jones, while in the hands of Gibbs, ornament was left to the taste of Italian plasterers, and was therefore not scholarly and eclectic, but contemporary and rococo.
The early Georgian style, though not so familiar as that of Wren, is well represented. Among small houses, a very complete and richly-treated house is the Countess of Suffolk's villa at Twickenham, Marble Hill, built for her in 1724, probably by Robert Morris. It has also, in its richest form, its monuments in the practically untouched interiors of Holkham and Houghton among great houses, and many minor buildings. It is indicated in contemporary art, and very thoroughly rendered by Hogarth, who, besides recording the spirit of his age, is pre-eminently successful in preserving its fashions and furniture. Of the vanished great houses, such as Wanstead and Bubb Dodington's palaces at Eastbury and Hammersmith, we get a fainter picture in the contemporary literature. It so happens that Hogarth has given us few satisfactory interiors. In some cases, so anxious is he to drive home his moral, all we see is a wall crowded with very symbolic pictures. But the famous second scene of Marriage a: la mode (Fig. 8), which is said to have been painted from a house in Arlington Street, is an authoritative document. This picture, painted in 1749, is said by Mr Austin Dobson to "satirise the style of William Kent, both in its furniture and decorations." Hogarth represents a fine room, divided into two by an arch supported by dark blue marble pillars, which is spoilt by absurd ornaments, "tods and fat squabs" that are crowded on the severely classic chimneypiece, and the amazing clock,' a nondescript affair which carica­tures the worst moments of the English rococo. The furniture, which is plain, bears no resem­blance to Kent's (which is essentially decorated), and it has been suggested, with great probability, that though Hogarth drew the room from Arlington Street, the chairs were probably his own, as and not the classic, and Mr Dobson is quite mistaken in his inference.
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