When you have a treasure like the Royal Pavilion on your doorstep it’s easy to get a little blasé about its splendour. But every time we visit – usually because we have vistors ourselves who want to gawp at the spectacle – we find something new to stun and amaze.
Our last trip was to see the newly restored saloon, where the Prince Regent would welcome his guests in a swirl of gold, crimson, silver and of course dragons.
Now something even more glorious has been restored to George’s pleasure palace-by-the-sea. Over one hundred and twenty treasures, including furniture, ceramics, clocks, vases and much more, all commissioned by the Prince Regent specifically for his beloved Pavilion, were removed during Queen Victoria’s reign when the building faced an uncertain future, maybe even demolition.
Ever since then they’ve been part of the Royal Collection, housed in Buckingham Palace’s East Wing, seen only by the royals themselves and visitors to private functions.
The current refurbishment of Buckingham Palace gave the Pavilion curators a chance to ask for some of the most exquisite and rare pieces to be returned. And the Royal Collection said “yes” to a two year loan.
Then began months of planning, logistical problem-solving and a week-long closure to allow the items for A Prince’s Treasure to be safely and securely delivered and installed. Staff from both the Royal Collection and the Pavilion worked alongside each other assembling and positioning every last piece – meticulous, exhausting but so rewarding for anyone with a love of history.
George’s treasures have come home – where they were meant to be – with every item carefully matching the sunflowers, dragons and chinese-inspired flights of fancy that was Prinny’s dream palace.
Keeper of the Royal Pavilion David Beevers couldn’t be happier. ‘We are so thrilled to have these exquisite items on display to the public after more than 170 years. They have been on an incredible journey – many items have travelled from China and Europe to Brighton and then Buckingham Palace thanks to the intervention of Queen Victoria. We are extremely grateful to Her Majesty The Queen for her generous loan of so many important items.’
You really have to see it all for yourself but after being given an exclusive guided tour we’ll try to do it justice.
Delicate Chinese nodding figurines now line the Long Gallery, I can just imagine Prinny setting them in motion to amuse himself and his entourage, and fancy chairs and tables designed to his own specifications are settled back in their original places.
A glorious gilt clock and matching barometer grace either end of the Banqueting Room, with dragon-shaped firedogs and bright brass fenders below.
The ‘Kylin’ clock – a slightly disturbing opium dream of turquoise Chinese lions and fancy gilt-work – has pride of place in the saloon. The old narrow Victorian fireplace had to be extended to the original Regency size to accommodate it.
The Music Room, always a blaze of red and golden glory, is now even more spectacular with porcelain uplighters, cleverly adapted from their original oil flame to low energy LEDs, illuminating clearly for the first time the thousands of gilt cockle shells that cover the domed ceiling.
Even more dramatic are the rare Japanese vases that flank the orginal Rock clock (previously visitors would have seen a reproduction) on the fireplace.
And six extraordinary porcelain pagodas which were acquired specifically for the Music Room and brought back from China by Dr JJ Garrett, who complained they took up all the space in his cabin!
Of course George couldn’t let the understated delicacy of the originals go unadorned so he raised their height with specially comissioned Spode plinths and added gilt bells (that tinkled in the breeze if the windows were open) and golden dragon finials to make sure they reached their impressive 15 foot height.
Art historians, furniture lovers and restoration geeks will be in seventh heaven to see these amazing pieces in their orginal surroundings.
And the rest of us? We can only stand and stare.
More information about A Prince’s Treasure at the Royal Pavilion
The collection is on a two-year loan while restoration work is carried out at Buckingham Palace and is covered by the Royal Pavilion’s usual entrance fee. A superb printed guide to the collection is available for an additional £4.
The Pavilion is open from October to March 10am–5.15pm (last tickets at 4.30pm)
April to September 9.30am–5.45pm (last tickets at 5pm) It is only closed on Christmas Eve from 2.30pm, (last admission 1.30pm) and all day on 25 and 26 December
More details of A Prince’s Treasure can be found here.