Saturday 24 December 2011

George IV and the Marine Pavilion, Brighton

Brighton Pavilion - part of the Steyne front
Brighton House

George, Prince of Wales, first rented Brighton House from his German chef and general factotum, Louis Weltje, in 1786. This “superior farmhouse” was situated on the Steyne, a fashionable promenade, with views of the sea to the south. It was not until 1793 that Weltje formally leased the pavilion to the prince at a cost of £1,000 a year.

The Marine Pavilion

Henry Holland was the architect that George chose to redesign the pavilion. Holland had already completed the transformation of Carlton House into a Neoclassical masterpiece and it was the same Neoclassical inspiration that influenced his designs for the pavilion.

He built a rotunda over the grand saloon to the north of the existing building and then added an extra wing beyond that to balance the original farmhouse, thereby creating a symmetrical building. The old wing contained the prince’s private apartments whilst the new wing provided space for an eating room and a library. The rooms to the north and the south of the rotunda were bounded by a corridor to the west which enabled easier access.

Holland’s design incorporated bow windows and iron balconies which have become indicative of regency style, with French windows along the whole of the Steyne front. He used cream-glazed Hampshire tiles to cover the walls of both old and new buildings to create a uniform whole.

During 1787-8, £21,454 was spent on redecorating the villa and fitting it out with expensive French furniture.

The grand saloon

The rotunda was the centre of the Marine Pavilion, housing a circular drawing room which was the only large reception room in the house. Outside the tall French windows of the saloon, Holland built a row of pillars, giving the rotunda a classical appearance.

It was originally decorated with Neoclassical paintings by Biagio Rebecca. Records show that he was paid the sum of £160 for painting the spectacular sky ceiling.

In 1802-4, the saloon was redecorated in the style of a Chinese garden arbour. A bamboo balustrade was added above the cornice, with the open sky painted on the ceiling above. The walls displayed large panels of Chinese painted wallpaper with a bright colour scheme of blue, red and yellow.

Brighton Pavilion
External view of the grand saloon as it is today
Oriental influence

Even as early as 1800, George was becoming bored of the Neoclassical beauty of Holland’s pavilion and was looking for new designs. His taste now showed a marked preference for the Chinese style. It has been suggested that this was provoked by a gift of “very beautiful Chinese paper” in 1802, but drawings from the previous year indicate that the prince was already looking at designs in the Chinoiserie style. It is possible that he was influenced to some extent by Chamber’s Chinese Pagoda at Kew.
Chinese wallpaper in Belton House, Lincolnshire
By 1803, £12,799 had been spent on orientalising the interiors of the Marine Pavilion, primarily at the hands of the firm of Crace.

A contemporary guidebook of 1815 declares that the furniture is “Chinese and is uncommonly splendid”.

Further development

Visitor entrance to the Brighton Pavilion
But the prince was not content with the Marine Pavilion for long. Whilst the interiors were being transformed into the oriental style, Holland, and his nephew and pupil, PF Robinson, were extending the main building to include a new eating room and conservatory, and a new entrance hall was created by extending the portico out to the west. The ground floor rooms of the original villa were also amalgamated to form two larger galleries on either side of the central saloon.

In 1815, the prince commissioned John Nash to redesign the pavilion; the result is the Brighton Pavilion as it is today which leaves little of Holland’s Marine Pavilion apart from the grand saloon housed by the rotunda.

Sources used include:
Editor of the Picture of London, A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1815)
Huish, Robert, Memoirs of George IV (1830)
Morley, John, The Royal Pavilion, Brighton
Nash, John, Views of the Royal Pavilion with commentary by Gervase Jackson-Stops (1991)
Parissien, Steven, George IV, The Grand Entertainment (2001)

Photographs by Andrew Knowles -

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