Friday, November 5, 2010
The picture above was taken from just near the edge of the garden at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. I quite like the way it feels "of the time", i.e. early 19th century.
The Pavilion was built for George the Prince of Wales (son of "mad" king George III), who later became the Prince Regent in 1811 (and in 1820, George IV). Its development spanned a period of about 35 years (1787 to 1823), and the building evolved over time from a farmhouse into the palatial Eastern Dream (hallucination, more like) that you can see today, refurbished, if you're lucky enough to visit. Its external style is what's called Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture, a late-19th-century mash-up reminiscent of Indian and some Islamic architecture (cusped arches and Russian-style onion domes liberally deployed), blended with a dash of the various British styles favoured at the time.
The Prince Regent's fetish for the exotic extended to the interior of the Pavilion as well. He was obsessed with a decorative trend known as chinoiserie, which is the primary theme of the Pavilion's interior decor; as the name indicates, this style was a kind of Western mimicry of the Vague Far East. Amusingly, George himself had never travelled further east than Germany; apparently he preferred to import the imagined Orient into his ornate banqueting and music rooms.
Unfortunately photography was not allowed inside the building, so I wasn't able to capture any of the stunning interiors (including details such as wooden stair railings carved to look like bamboo, and a large chandelier festooned with snarling dragons and apparently carried by one larger dragon who seems to hover on the ceiling).
The Prince himself didn't exactly have a spotless public image. He was often criticised as being a decadent wastrel, lavishing money on booze, parties, and mistresses; his penchant for a luxurious and hedonistic lifestyle led him into massive debt, in spite of the generous allowance provided him. Undoubtedly, the palace in trendy Brighton wouldn't have helped with this impression. Political cartoons depicting the Prince are on public display on the wall in the hallway leading to what is now the Royal Pavilion Tea Room on the building's second level.
The Prince's character and reputation are well-known enough to have been referenced in the Richard Curtis series Blackadder III starring Hugh Laurie as the Prince and Rowan Atkinson at his servant, who in the first episode instructs the Prince to "take out the plans for that beach hut at Brighton."