William Kent (c.1685-1748)
William Kent was born in Yorkshire, and thanks to a benefactor
was able to travel and study painting in Italy, where he met his
future patrons Lord Burlington and Thomas Coke. From 1729 he was
engaged by Queen Caroline at Richmond to design garden buildings
such as the Queen’s Pavilion, the canal-side Dairy and Rotunda,
a Summer-house on the Terrace and, most notably, the Hermitage and
Merlin’s Cave. The Hermitage (which was situated to the north-east
of the present-day Azalea Garden) consisted of a roughly-built triple
façade emerging from a mount and, inside, a domed octagon
surrounded by cells on three sides, containing the busts of a contemporary
scientific and philosophical pantheon including Newton and Locke.
Merlin’s Cave was constructed in 1735, at the south-east corner
of the Duck Pond (close to the present-day Lake). Its central chamber
contained waxworks, including Merlin, and the building’s poet-custodian,
Stephen Duck, and was flanked by two octagonal wings lined with
bookcases. In 1732 Kent was also employed by Frederick, Prince of
Wales, to renovate a house which he had leased at Kew, just to the
south of the present Kew Palace. In addition to the new interior
and wings, he gave it a white stucco façade, from which came
its name – the White House. Kent also worked on houses and
gardens such as Holkham Hall, Carlton House and Stowe.
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