Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Kent
The following text is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977 (now out of print). For the most up to date research on the Collection, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text. This can be accessed by following the link with each portrait’s title.
In consulting the following, please note that apart from the reformatting which allows the printed catalogue to be made available on-line the text is as published in 1977. Footnotes in the original edition are given within square brackets.
William Kent (1685?-1748)
Architect, landscape-gardener; apprenticed to a Hull coach painter; sent to Italy, 1709, the first Englishman admitted to the Duke of Tuscany's Academy; returned to England 1719 and patronised by Burlington, completed the Cupid and Psyche cycle at Burlington House; edited, Designs of Inigo Jones, 1727; commissions included Houghton, Holkham and Stowe, with The Royal Mews, Horse Guards and the Treasury Buildings among his best-known works.
1557 Perhaps William Kent, by Bartholomew Dandridge
Oil on canvas, 35 x 28 ¼ in. (889 x 718 mm); grey eyebrows, dark blue eyes, double chin, bluish temple, upper lip and chin; rich red velvet cap, white shirt open at neck, brown velvet coat with gold frogged buttonholes in pairs, red cuff of his right arm folded back to reveal white wrist ruffle; his right elbow rests on a masonry ledge, the left arm indistinct as also a buttonhole sketched in at the neck of the coat, suggesting the picture may not be quite finished; plain brown background, darker on left.
Signed on the masonry B Dandridge; on the back of the relining stretcher, top left, is a label perhaps fifty years old, on which is written W. Kent / By Dandridge;also a label: 221 (dealer's stock number?).
NPG 1557 is the smaller of two signed versions by Dandridge, both with Shepherd Brothers of King Street in 1909. The larger, a 50 x 40 in a 'Kent' frame, last noticed in 1910 at 31 Old Burlington Street when reproduced in the Connoisseur,  includes a book, a plan and a monument in the background. It is signed on the masonry, lower left. The plan (a terraced house?) is unidentified. The book is not lettered but the size would be compatible with, say, Leoni's Palladio. The monument, it is now suggested, is a simplified representation of Kent's pyramidal monument to Congreve at Stowe, 1736, reproduced in Bickham's Beauties of Stowe, 1750.  Other claims made in the 1910 account cannot be fully substantiated. For example, although of the period, there is no documentary evidence for attributing the carved frame to Kent.  Nor can the picture be firmly equated with the portrait mentioned by Mrs Lybbe Powys in her diary for 1771 at Wanstead House,  possibly the same noted there by Lysons in 1796  and lot 365, described as Kent, when the house was pulled down in 1822.  Nevertheless, comparison with authentic likenesses is plausible and the identification of NPG 1557 as Kent is now provisionally accepted.
Condition: some discoloured varnish; a few minor retouchings in background, otherwise good.
Collections: bought, 1909, from Shepherd Brothers, King Street.
Exhibited: 'English Taste in the Eighteenth Century', RA, 1955-56 (53).
Literature: Passages from the Diaries of Mrs Philip Lybbe Powys, ed. E.J. Climenson, 1899; Connoisseur, XXVII, 1910; M. Jourdain, The Work of William Kent, 1948.
A number of portraits have been called Kent and although some ground has been cleared by Margaret Jourdain,  a detailed study is still to seek. A head by Benedetto Luti, under whom the sitter studied in Italy, inscribed on the back Wi. Kent Rittrato Cavalier Benedetti Luti / Pinxt: in Roma 1718, at Chatsworth was possibly given by the sitter to his patron the 3rd Earl of Burlington.  After Kent's return, Vertue refers to the following portraits: a whole length by W. Aikman at Lord Castlemain's at Wanstead [Editor’s note, 2013: this is NPG 6063], and 'his picture done by Mr Dahl very like', 1725,  two busts in Rysbrack's studio, 1732,  the well-known caricature Taste, or Burlington Gate, 1731-32,  the portrait in the 'Conversation of Virtuosis', 1734-35, by Gawen Hamilton,  (seebelow, Groups, NPG 1384) a self-portrait despatched to Paris to be engraved by Ravenet, 1743,  and a crayon by Lady Burlington in her great room at Piccadilly 'much more like than that done by Aikman', c.1748.  Not all these portraits can now be identified. A head and shoulders by Aikman is known through engravings (O'D 1-3) such as A. Bannerman's made for the 1762 edition of Walpole's Anecdotes. The Dahl and the busts by Rysbrack are apparently lost and efforts to trace the Wanstead portrait have so far proved fruitless. No very convincing self-portrait is known although one exhibited at the ‘NPE', 1867 (350), lent by Rev. W.V. Harcourt, cannot be ruled out. A portrait by Lady Burlington 'painted like Kneller' was reported at Hardwick in 1865.  Inthe decorations of the King's Stairs, Kensington Palace,  there is a self-portrait with palette and probably another in the allegory 'Mercury and the Arts' in the Red Velvet Room at Chiswick House,  and a small profile drawing is among the Chiswick miscellanies at Chatsworth.
An oil which may represent Kent was in the possession, 1919, of Judge Lock at Bridlington, Yorkshire, the sitter's birthplace, and a painting by Viviani,  at Euston Hall, is reputed to show him with the 2nd Duke of Grafton in Rome.
1. Connoisseur, pp.211-12; The London Post Office Directory, 1910, give Lenygon & Co, Interior Decorators, at this address. They have no record of the picture.
2. Colvin, p.361; published 1715-16, the two volumes often bound in one.
3. This suggestion is due to John Harris; compare Jourdain, p.44.
4. Desmond Fitz-Gerald, V & A, verbal, 1970.
5. Passages . . . Mrs Philip Lybbe Powys, p.205.
6. Lysons, IV, 1796, p.235.
7. George Robins, 10-21 June 1822, and succeeding days: Lugt 10272, 10288, 10295, 10313.
8. Jourdain, pp. 43-44.
9. Exh. 'Italian Art and Britain', RA, 1960 (122).
10. Vertue, III, pp. 2, 24.
11. Ibid, p.56.
12. Ibid, pp.55-56, 68; Paulson (277) doubting the attribution to Hogarth.
13. Ibid, p.71.
14. Ibid, pp.88, 115.
15. Ibid, V, p.73.
16. MS catalogue (263) of that date; SSB, LXXIV, p.18.
17. Lysons, III, 1796, p.183.
18. R.J.B. Walker, 1973.
19. Kent was in Italy 1709-19.
View a wide collection of video content on our YouTube channel from past projects to our latest films.
Artist and sitter interviews
Get insights into creating portraiture from BP Portrait Award 2020 artists and their sitters.
Watch our film created to say ‘goodbye’ to the Gallery before we closed for our major transformation project.