The Royal Pavilion as George IV Intended

The Orléans Chinese porcelain jars, circa 1710, with later English additions © HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2019

As the New Year dawns we are returning to The Royal Pavilion, Brighton to once again experience ‘A Prince’s Treasure’, an exhibition of international importance which remains on show for much of 2021.

The exhibition showcases a spectacular loan of some 120 decorative works of art from Her Majesty The Queen; pieces that were originally commissioned by the Prince Regent for the Royal Pavilion. It provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for visitors to see these objects of unparalleled magnificence in their original setting. The Pavilion’s exotic, regal interiors come alive in the company of the pieces commissioned for them, and further our understanding of the future George IV’s influence and tastes as Britain became an economic superpower.

I am once again in the company of David Beevers, Keeper of the Royal Pavilion, who has overseen this remarkable collaboration between the Royal Collection Trust and the Royal Pavilion.

I am always delighted to return to the third of the Pavilion’s great state rooms, the Music Room. It was created to reflect George IV’s love of music. The magnificent decoration is not constrained in anyway. It is a masterpiece of one of the King’s chief decorators, Frederick Crace. Under Crace’s instructions Henry Lambert, together with 34 assistants, painted the canvas panels with Chinese scenes in gold against crimson grounds creating the impression of the room being like a huge chinoiserie box. I adore the carved, painted and silvered dragons which shimmer as they support the canvases and blue silk drapes. The chandeliers take the form of spreading lotus flowers adding life and perspective to John Nash’s domed and tented ceiling.

The Chinese porcelain pagodas, circa 1803, with English additions © HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2019

Despite my familiarity with the room David Beevers remarks excitedly that I must look to the right as we enter it. I am unprepared and overwhelmed by the spectacle of the line of six enormous porcelain pagodas which make sense of and give voice to the scale of this room.

These imposing porcelain objects were acquired in 1803/1804 from China and the dealer Robert Fogg. Fogg supplied the English Spode porcelain bases as well as the gilded bronze bells, dolphins and dogs, and the dragon finials which were subcontracted to B.L. Vulliamy.

Flanking the marvellous fireplace are two of the magnificent Orléans jars. Over nine feet high they were used as oil lamps in the corners of the Music Room. George IV was particularly interested in objects associated with the French monarchy and three of the jars bear the arms of Phillipe, duc d’Orleans, Regent of France from 1715-1723. The bases are Spode and the gilded bronze fittings are again from B.L. Vulliamy.

Many of the decorative works of art have not been on public display for over 170 years and are on loan to the Royal Pavilion whilst essential building works in the East Wing of Buckingham Palace take place. They were removed to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle by Queen Victoria in 1847 when it was thought that the Royal Pavilion might be demolished. It is wonderful to see them temporarily re-united with their original setting.

‘A Prince’s Treasure’ is 2021’s must see exhibition in Sussex. To find out more and to book your tickets as soon as Tier 4 restrictions are lifted visit www.brightonmuseums.org.uk/royalpavilion.

Place and Identity Expressed in Brighton Aquatints

John Piper – ‘The Royal Pavilion’, plate II, circa 1939

John Piper’s ‘Brighton Aquatints’ was published in late November 1939 just after the outbreak of the Second World War by Gerald Duckworth Ltd. Two-hundred and fifty sets were printed from the original steel-faced copper plates and of these fifty-five sets were hand coloured.

John Piper’s ‘Brighton Aquatints’ rarely comes to auction and is now valued in the thousands. But The Mainstone Press’ 2019 edition, with its excellent introduction and essay by Alan Powers, provides a beautiful and accessible way to enjoy the images and text of the rare original volumes.

Piper revived the early 19th century print making medium of aquatint. At first glance the images with their facing text could appear to record the passing of an age. But the book has a textural, stylized quality which gives expression to deeply held emotions connected with place. It shows Piper’s awareness and interest in modernism and abstraction – a romantic modernism.

The book consist of twelve aquatints of Brighton. The illustrations were printed by the two Alexander brothers who had a basement workshop in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London. The watermarks which appear in the paper are irregularly placed and are styled as a hand raised in blessing, a head, said to be that of Christ, and the date 1399.

The process of creating an aquatint involves exposing a plate, usually of copper or zinc, to acid through an applied layer of granulated, melted resin. The acid incises the plate between the granules creating areas of evenly pitted surface. This can be varied by applying additional resin, scraping and burnishing. Different strengths of acids are also employed. When the grains are removed and the plate is printed it results in variations of tone. The effect often resembles watercolours and wash drawings, hence the name Aquatint.

As you know I visited the Royal Pavilion Brighton only a few weeks ago. The scene was reminiscent of Piper’s view of the ‘The Royal Pavilion’ which remains remarkably unchanged from his 1939 aquatint. In his notes Piper describes the building’s extravagant beauty and the great affection in which it is held.

John Piper – ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’, plate III, circa 1939

In ‘Regency Square from the West Pier’ we are reminded of a view now lost to us. John Piper describes how the pier appears like a ‘dazzling white meringue, brittle and sweet…florid and grand as anywhere.’ Regency Square is laid out on a gentle slope in the view beyond.

In some ways John Piper’s Brighton Aquatints is representative of a collective English re-thinking of the role of locality and place in relation to our identity. In the 1930s, as today, there were many who claimed that these things did not matter. But this book speaks persuasively of the importance and value of place to English identity. As we seek to answer the housing needs of our nation I hope that imaginative architecture, and a celebration of the regional and vernacular will speak to our identity as a nation and create homes where our families can flourish.

Objects of Unparalleled Magnificence at the Royal Pavilion

The Saloon © The Royal Pavilion, Brighton/Jim Holden, 2020

This week we are returning to the Royal Pavilion, Brighton where the exhibition ‘A Prince’s Treasure’ is currently on show. It provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to see furniture and works of art, generously loaned by Her Majesty The Queen, displayed as George IV intended in the Pavilion.

We are once again in the company of David Beevers, Keeper of the Royal Pavilion. In The Saloon, the grandest Royal room in the Pavilion, David remarks “Light, the sun and sunflowers are the dominate motifs.”

George IV was self-indulgent, hedonistic, extravagant and self-pitying. He married Mrs Fitzherbert privately and illegally without his father George III’s permission and did not behave well towards Queen Caroline. But he was a charismatic personality.

After Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 George felt that his regal magnificence was the embodiment of Britain’s greatness. In 1811 George had boasted that his court would eclipse that of the French Emperor Napoleon I. Throughout his life George was a passionate patron of the arts, and a connoisseur and collector of the furniture, paintings and works of art of France from the period of Louis XIV at Versailles to Napoleon Bonaparte.

David says ‘The Saloon represents the Pavilion style at its confident best…there is a Stateliness. It’s decorated in the royal colours of crimson, silver and gold – this regal space must have provided a remarkable backdrop to the ceremony and drama of George’s reign.”

The Yellow Drawing Room Buckingham Palace, Royal Collection Trust © HM Queen Elizabeth II, 2019.

David draws my attention to the Kylin clock flanked by the Chinese porcelain vases with English gilt-bronze mounts. They were designed to stand together upon the remarkable chimneypiece which has been photographically superimposed to great effect, the original remains in the East Wing of Buckingham Palace. The clock has a later movement by B.L. Vuillamy which is mounted in a 17th century Chinese porcelain bowl above a pair of 18th century Chinese mythical creatures sometimes described as Kylin. David explains that the clock was acquired in France but the gilt-bronze fruit, flower and sunflower motifs were supplied by the bronze manufacturer Samuel Parker to a design by Robert Jones. Robert Jones’ design can also be seen in the gilt-bronze candle sockets which surmount the pair of Chinese export vases.

David describes the pieces from the Royal Collection as “Objects of unparalleled magnificence”.

David Beevers and the Royal Pavilion team, The Royal Collection Trust and the Government Indemnity Office must all be congratulated on the success of this remarkable venture.

George’s collection in the context of The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, provides a unique insight into the royal and aristocratic tastes of the early 19th century. The Chinese porcelain and clocks with their gilt-bronze mounts bring together George’s fascination with the art of 18th/early 19th century France and the exotic creations of the east.

You can book tickets for ‘A Princes’ Treasure’ by visiting www.brightonmuseums.org.uk/royalpavilion and you must treat yourself to the stunning new Guide to The Royal Pavilion – it is beautifully written and produced.

Once in a Lifetime Opportunity at Royal Pavilion Brighton

Royal Pavilion Banqueting Room with fender, mantel clock and serving tables designed by Robert Jones, Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020.

In the first of a series of articles I am exploring a significant and generous loan of objects by Her Majesty The Queen to the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. These important objects will be on display at the Royal Pavilion until the autumn of 2021.

Amongst these are some of the most splendid pieces commissioned by George IV for the Royal Pavilion. The exhibition ‘A Prince’s Treasure’ provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this collection in the context of its original setting as George IV would have intended.

This week I am in the company of David Beevers, Keeper of the Royal Pavilion, who has overseen this remarkable collaboration between the Royal Collection Trust and the Royal Pavilion. The loan comprises of more than 120 objects which are on display at the Royal Pavilion for the first time since their removal to London in 1847/48. David explains how Queen Victoria enjoyed her Uncle George IV’s extravagant taste at Brighton.

When Brighton and the building no longer suited Queen Victoria’s family needs it was decided that the Pavilion should be sold and it was assumed that the site would be redeveloped. The fixtures, including fireplaces and wall panels, and the decorative objects, wallpapers and furniture were removed to London where many of them were installed under Prince Albert’s direction in the newly built East Wing at Buckingham Palace.

With remarkable foresight and in an act of enlightened civic patronage the Pavilion was bought and saved for the town by the Brighton Town Commissioners and their Clerk, Lewis Slight.

In 1863 Queen Victoria generously returned a number of important murals and chandeliers. Since then Royal patronage has seen numerous objects returned to the Royal Pavilion, thanks to a series of gifts and loans. In 1955 Her Majesty The Queen returned more than 100 objects on long term loan.
As we enter the Banqueting Room I remark on how the decorative whole is so much more apparent and alive with the loans in place. David agrees saying “Everything speaks – it suddenly starts talking to each other.”

He explains how the designs of Robert Jones can be discerned in the details and overall decorative scheme. Many of the pieces are designed by Jones. As we stand before one of the fireplaces it becomes apparent that the dragon and serpent motifs decorating the steel, brass and gilt-bronze fenders and fire dogs are repeated elsewhere. The legs of the superb rosewood, mahogany and satinwood veneered serving tables, manufactured by Tatham, Bailey and Sanders are delicately carved with gilded dragons. In the overdoor panels, too, carved gilded serpents and dragons are framed beneath arched palmette friezes bringing together the Chinese and Indian styles.

Banqueting Room mantel clock by Vuillamy, Royal Collection Trust/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

I ask David if he has a favourite piece and he shows me an extraordinary mantel clock saying “This clock reflects the Pavilion style at its confident best.” He describes how the clock was designed by Robert Jones and made by Vuillamy. The Chinese figures echo those painted on the walls. The gilt-bronze foliage was gilded by Fricker and Henderson and seems to allude to an eagle in flight.
Benjamin Lewis Vuillamy was horologist to the Royal family and his work rivalled the French manufacturers. With its enamelled figures and peacock surmount it speaks of George IV’s patronage of the very finest craftsmanship of his age.

‘A Prince’s Treasure’ is an extraordinary exhibition which brings to life the patronage of a Prince and King here in the very heart of Sussex and I am looking forward to revisiting. The generous, intelligent procession through the rooms and the other Covid precautions with ticketed, timed entry has been designed to keep the visitor safe. Visit www.brightonmuseums.org.uk/royalpavilion/ to book your tickets. This is a must see exhibition!

Postcards from Sussex

 

A Sussex postcard titled ‘Steam Roller in Difficulties, Littlehampton, Jan 8, 1914’
A Sussex postcard titled ‘Steam Roller in Difficulties, Littlehampton, Jan 8, 1914’

As you know I love to send and receive postcards at this time of year and this week I am in the company of Toovey’s Director, Nicholas Toovey, who is celebrating another sell out Postcard and Paper Collectables auction. Nicholas says “The stamps, cigarette cards, letters and autographs were all buoyant but it was the postcards that stood out. It’s these collectors’ specialisms which are today’s boom markets.”

He continues “This amazing photographic postcard titled ‘Steam Roller in Difficulties, Littlehampton, Jan 8, 1914’ could have easily been titled ‘And you thought you were having a bad day!’ The scene was described contemporaneously in the Worthing Gazette as ‘a rather startling incident at the junction of Howard-road and Howard-place…the task of lifting the roller out of the hole and placing it on a firm surface again was by no means an easy one, and the operations were the centre of much interest for the greater part of the morning. It was half past two o’clock in the afternoon when the work was completed.’ The postcard sold for £260. It once again highlights that the market for Sussex postcards at Toovey’s salerooms is really buoyant!”

A Sussex postcard titled ‘Accident to Motor Mail Van, Brighton, Aug 25, 1909’
A Sussex postcard titled ‘Accident to Motor Mail Van, Brighton, Aug 25, 1909’

Nicholas draws my attention to another calamity depicted on a postcard, titled ‘Accident to Motor Mail Van, Brighton, Aug 25, 1909’ which realised £95. He says “It shows the mishap that befell the ‘A 8757’ in Preston Road.”
I comment how I loved the early motor racing scene and the people promenading in an album of some 120 Brighton and Hove photographic postcards. Nicholas explains that the album fetched one of the highest prices of the sale when his gavel fell at £1300. He says “The postcards showed many less typical scenes of the seaside town, including scenes of social history and unusual street views.”

Vintage Advertising Postcard for Harris's Sausages
Vintage Advertising Postcard for Harris’s Sausages

I cannot believe that a postcard with the slogan ‘Chief of the Clan MacSausage’ could possibly be connected with Sussex. Nicholas smiles and explains “It’s a colour postcard advertising Harris’s Sausages but on the reverse it has an overprint for Harris’s Sausage Restaurant in West Street, Brighton. He was the self-styled ‘Sausage King’. A colourful character – he was often seen wearing a top hat and evening dress around the London markets. His sons were named ‘Number One’, ‘Number Two’ and ‘Number Three’ which gives a measure of the man.” The postcard sold for £40.

These postcards provide a remarkable visual insight into our social history and it is easy to see why they attract such a strong following.

Nicholas is still inviting entries for Toovey’s next sale of Paper Collectables, featuring postcards, stamps, cigarette cards, autographs, photographs and ephemera which will be held on Tuesday 8th October.

By Rupert Toovey, a senior director of Toovey’s, the leading fine art auction house in West Sussex, based on the A24 at Washington. Originally published in the West Sussex Gazette.