This portrait represents the architect, landscape and furniture designer William Kent. He is depicted holding a scroll of paper, which may represent architectural plans, and an ink pen. His left arm rests on an antique sculpture of a woman’s head, a reference to Kent’s classical interests. Kent played a leading role in introducing the classical, Palladian style of architecture to the UK in the early 18th century.
A full-length painting of Kent, also by William Aikman, is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG). The NPG version was painted for Lord Castlemaine, to be displayed over a mantelpiece in the Great Hall at Wanstead House in Essex (a Palladian house which has since been demolished). Kent painted the ceiling of the Great Hall which explains why, in the portrait commissioned for that room, Kent is depicted as an artist, holding his palette and brushes, while for this portrait, Aikman represents Kent’s additional professions of architect and designer.
William Aikman was born in Angus, Scotland, the son of a laird of Cairnie. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh and was intended for a career in law. However, instead he became a pupil of portrait painter John Baptist de Medina, then living in Edinburgh. Aikman moved to London in 1704 and three years later travelled to Rome, Constantinople and Smyrna. He had returned to Edinburgh by 1711, where he developed a successful practice as a portrait painter. In about 1723, he again settled in London, painting portraits of Richard Boyle, Sir Robert Walpole. In 1730, Aikman painted the royal family for Lord Burlington. He died at his house in Leicester Fields the following year after a sudden deterioration in his health.
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