The building that Prince George leased in 1786 was Brighton House, a substantial and gentlemanly farmhouse with shrubs, roses and a sea view across the Steine.

Henry Holland was the first architect to transform the house. During the spring and summer of 1787, the farmhouse became a Palladian villa topped with a shallow cupola and with a central rotunda between two wings. This classical severity was relieved by the bow windows and delicate wrought-iron work that stamp the charming Regency style still to be seen in Brighton and some other towns. Balconies were added between 1801 and 1804. When Holland's pupil Robinson extended the Pavilion, an oval room was added at each corner of the front. It was at this time that the Prince adopted a realistically Chinese style of interior decoration. Soon he was obsessed with the orient. When William Porden succeeded Holland as architect, he set before the Prince splendid drawings for a new Pavilion in the Chinese taste. These plans were never realized, although the Prince did adopt Porden's designs for the remarkable glass-domed Royal Stables and Riding House, completed in 1808. The buildings stand today.

The stables were Indian in concept and reflected a new turn in the Prince's quest for Xanadu. He summoned Humphrey Repton and asked "his opinion concerning what Style of Architecture would be the most suitable for the Pavilion." Repton replied with exquisite water-colour drawings (flaps revealed before-and-after views) of an Indian Pavilion. But probably his concepts were too archaeologically correct to suit the Prince's fantasies. Each of these architects was eminent. It was however the most famous (and notorious) of them all, John Nash, who from 1815 to 1822 created the ultimate design — the Royal Pavilion as it stands now. The building embodied highly sophisticated concepts and materials: cast-iron was used with particular ingenuity. Its extraordinary but harmonious form was the result of the perfect blending of the talents of Nash, the King, and their decorators, notably Robert Jones and the firm of Crace. The interior was equally fantastic, and impressed visitors, whether they approved or not, with its extravagant opulence--as their remarks show. (The Brighton Royal Pavilion, p. 4)

J. H. Plumb in his B. C. C. television series Royal Heritage (1977) devotes a whole chapter to the building and collection agenda of George IV, whose influence on the architectural and decorative arts of Great Britain was considerable, despite the fact that he reigned for so short a period. The Royal Pavilion, Brighton (1815-22, principally by John Nash), is Britain's foremost piece of Romantic architecture, a lasting testimonial to the taste, elegance, and eccentricity of the last of the Hanoverian kings, George IV. Even today, the casual visitor is never luke-warm in his or her appreciation of the building; he or she may, like essayist William Hazlitt, describe it as "a madhouse or a house run mad" (cited in Plumb, p. 198), or, like political radical William Cobbett, see it as "a Little Kremlin" (cited in Plumb, p. 189), or dismiss it as the Reverend Sidney Smith did: "The Dome of St. Paul's [London Cathedral] went down to the sea and pupped" (cited in Plumb, p. 198). In many ways, the Royal Pavilion well exemplifies Shakespeare's enigmatic remark in Macbeth that "nothing is but what is not," for the bamboo which one sees everywhere is either carved oak or cast-iron, the banana and plaintain leaves are thin bronze, and the orientals in the murals have decidedly European features!

On first viewing it is overpowering and slightly repellent: the huge lotus-like chandeliers, the dragons writhing down the walls, the imitation blue skies, palm trees in cast iron, banana trees in bronze, seats pretending to be dolphins, and everywhere bamboo chairs, bamboo beds, bamboo bookcases, bamboo seats—but, of course, imitation painted bamboo — even bamboo in iron. . . . . (Plumb, p. 198)

Related Material

References

Automobile Association of Great Britain. Treasures of Britain and Treasures of Ireland. Drive Publications, London: 1973. Pp. 99 & 101.

Higginbottom, David. Il. John Barrow and Eric de Mare. The Brighton Royal Pavilion. Brighton, Sussex: The Royal Pavilion, Museums and Libraries Committee, 1972.

Plumb, J. H. "George IV." Royal Heritage: The Story of Britain's Royal Builders and Collectors. British Broadcasting Corporation, London: 1977. Pp. 197-242.


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Last modified 12 October 2006