The Surprisingly Exotic Vision of George IV

There is nothing quite like the Brighton royal pavilion in the British Isles. Situated at the heart of Brighton, a seaside city south of London, stands what looks like an Indian palace. This Regency-style palace is the exotic vision of George IV, and its architecture is extraordinary.

In the mid-1780s, as prince regent, George rented a lodging house in Brighton. Architect Henry Holland converted the building into a “marine pavilion,” and in 1815, architect John Nash started to transform the villa into an Asian palace. The prince regent lavishly decorated his seaside residence with exported Chinese wallpapers, furniture, and objects. In 1850, Queen Victoria sold the palace to Brighton.

The pavilion represents the 18th-century European fascination with Asia. It was inspired by Indian Mughal architecture, common in 16th- and 17th-century Northern and Central India. The style is also an example of Islamic architecture with minarets (slender towers), pointed arches, and onion domes, with a focus on balance and coherence. The interior is in the chinoiserie style, a Western style inspired by Chinese design, characterized by gilding, lacquering, and asymmetry.

Chinoiserie is a feature of the Regency style, a decorative style invented under George IV. Decorator Frederick Crace and painter Robert Jones designed the palace’s interiors. Highlights include Queen’s Victoria bedroom with Chinese-exported wallpaper, the music room with exotic imagery and gilding, and the saloon (a grand meeting room) with elements such as dragons and lotus leaves.

The palace is a manifestation of 19th century eclecticism in Regency architecture, and the interior is an example of exoticism in this style. It was restored recently according to drawings and archives.

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A view of the prince regent’s residence at the pavilion gives an impression of lightness and airiness. Each element of the façade is decorated simply but elegantly, from the columns and windows to the dome detailing. (Brighton & Hove Museums)
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The garden surrounding the Brighton royal pavilion is designed without a formal layout. The garden holds a wide variety of plants and has been restored to Nash’s vision of an Asian garden. The garden has exotic plants from outside of Europe, mostly from China. (Brighton & Hove Museums)
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The colorful entrance hall is in the Regency Chinoiserie style, inspired by Chinese décor with gilding, lacquering, and oriental figures. Other Chinese features include the bamboo motif, the blueish-green birds on the pink wallpaper, and the bamboo staircase at the end of the hall. There are more Chinese elements such as figurines and vases, silk tassels, and hexagonal lanterns. The hall is arranged symmetrically, with Gothic elements that include the carved wood furniture and the stained-glass windows. (Brighton & Hove Museums)
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The saloon is the grandest room of the palace. Robert Jones, the interior decorator of the pavilion, designed the room. The central dome is supported by a cast-iron frame, and the blue woven carpet displays a peacock, reflecting the light blue domed ceiling. The red and gold silk wall panels and curtains are inspired by the French decorating style of the Napoleonic area. The wall is covered by silver, instead of gold, leaf. Chinese vases are placed everywhere in the space. The carpet is designed with woven sunflowers, dragons, and lotus leaves. (Brighton & Hove Museums)
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The spacious banquet room is the setting for many guests. Large candelabras on either side of the mahogany table light up an ornate silver gilt centerpiece. Canvas wall coverings and lamp stands are decorated with carved dragon mounts with lotus shades. The impressive central chandelier, embellished with six silver dragons breathing “fire,” hangs from a painted dome ceiling. Smaller chandeliers feature small birds inspired by Chinese mythology. (Brighton & Hove Museums)
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The music room was designed with great acoustics; the hand-knotted carpet and the domed ceiling improve the sound quality for concerts and recitals. Chinese-inspired imagery graces the walls. Frederick Crace designed the room with hand-painted red and gold canvases, chandeliers inspired by lotus plants, a giltwood mirror (a gilded wood mirror), silk satin curtains, silvered dragons and snakes, and a gilded ceiling. (Brighton & Hove Museums)
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Queen Victoria had her own room, less grand than the public rooms. A floral tapestry and hand-painted wallpaper features idyllic nature with birds, flora, and fauna in soft colors. The bed and chairs are in the Regency style characterized by plain wood veneers rather than extensive carving. (Brighton & Hove Museums)