1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kent, William

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KENT, WILLIAM (1685-1748), English "painter, architect, and the father of modern gardening," as Horace Walpole in his Anecdotes of Painting, describes him, was born in Yorkshire in 1685. Apprenticed to a coach-painter, his ambition soon led him to London, where he began life as a portrait and historical painter. He found patrons, who sent him in 1710 to study in Italy; and at Rome he made other friends, among them Lord Burlington, with whom he returned to England in 1719. Under that nobleman's roof Kent chiefly resided until his death on the 12th of April 1748—obtaining abundant commissions in all departments of his art, as well as various court appointments which brought him an income of £600 a year. Walpole says that Kent was below mediocrity in painting. He had some little taste and skill in architecture, of which Holkham palace is perhaps the most favourable example. The mediocre statue of Shakespeare in Westminister Abbey sufficiently stamps his powers as a sculptor. His merit in landscape gardening is greater. In Walpole's language, Kent was "painter enough to taste the charms of landscape, bold and opinionative enough to dare and to dictate, and born with a genius to strike out a great system from the twilight of imperfect essays." In short, he was the first in English gardening to vindicate the natural against the artificial. Banishing all the clipped monstrosities of the topiary art in yew, box or holly, releasing the streams from the conventional canal and marble basin, and rejecting the mathematical symmetry of ground plan then in vogue for gardens, Kent endeavoured to imitate the variety of nature, with due regard to the principles of light and shade and perspective. Sometimes he carried his imitation too far, as when he planted dead trees in Kensington gardens to give a greater air of truth to the scene, though he himself was one of the first to detect the folly of such an extreme. Kent's plans were designed rather with a view to immediate effect over a comparatively small area than with regard to any broader or subsequent results.