William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain
March - July 2014, Victoria & Albert Museum
William Kent (1685-1748) was the leading architect and designer of early Georgian Britain. A polymath, he turned his hand from painting to designing sculpture, architecture, interior decoration, furniture, metalwork, book illustration, theatrical design, costume and landscape gardens.
This was the UK’s first full-scale exhibition to reflect the comprehensive range of Kent’s talents and his important role in defining a new national style. We worked closely with Julius Bryant, the show’s curator, to design the exhibition which brought together nearly 200 examples of William Kent’s work including architectural drawings, spectacular gilt furniture, designs for landscape gardens, as well as paintings, illustrated books and Kent’s model for the Royal palace that was never built.
Inspired by Williams Kent’s approach to design where he defined a style through drawing, sketching and painting, our design concept created a “journey through the pages of Kent’s sketchbook” from his early studies in Italy through to his interiors and landscapes that would define the era.
The visitors embark on the journey of Kent’s design development as they progress through the exhibition. By using printed fabric gauze layers punctured with vistas, we set up a circuitous and folded pathway, bringing the visitors past a series of object groupings allowing layering and composed vistas.
The gauzes were printed with Kent’s designs at full scale, using both his hand sketches and finished etchings these large backdrops gave a sense of scale and context to the displays of his furniture from grand country houses such as Houghton Hall.
The primary vista running through all the layers is set up at in the introduction with a long view towards the silver chandelier designed for King George II. This series of apertures frames particular views and combined with the semi-transparent layers allows glimpses of what is to come as the visitor progresses.
When the visitor finally arrives in the ‘Elysium’ area which examines Kent’s work as the father of English landscape garden design, they are invited to turn around, whereupon the reverse view of the vista is revealed, and we see the portrait of William Kent himself, looking back at us.
Client: Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Exhibition Design: Hara Clark
Scenographics: Fernando Lai Couto
Lighting Design: David Atkinson
Graphic Design: V&A
Photograph credit: Nick Wood