In February 2012 two official, specially commissioned Diamond Jubilee photographs of HM the Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh were released to mark the 60th anniversary of The Queen’s accession to the throne. The photographs were taken in December 2011 by renowned photographer John Swannell, who has photographed members of the royal family on several occasions since the 1980s.
In the first photograph, the Queen is shown in the Centre Room of Buckingham Palace, with a glimpse of The Mall and the Queen Victoria memorial visible through the large window behind her.
The second official jubilee photograph, also taken in the Centre Room of Buckingham Palace, shows the Queen with Prince Philip in a room that could be mistaken for our very own Royal Pavilion in Brighton. The pair are posing in front of a Chinoiserie fireplace, and to either side of the mirror above the fireplace is a geometric border design that might well look familiar to Royal Pavilion visitors.
The white and gold fireplace, complete with small Chinese figures on either side of the fire grid, was originally installed in the Banqueting Room of the Royal Pavilion in 1817. It was designed by Robert Jones, one of the principal artists employed by the Prince Regent for the transformation of the Royal Pavilion from Henry Holland’s neo-classical building into John Nash’s Indian fantasy. Eagle-eyed observers might also spot to the right of Prince Philip a little bit of silvered background next to the trellis border. This is the background of the large Chinese-style paintings by Robert Jones which are also in the Banqueting Room.
The Centre Room of Buckingham Palace is also commonly known as the Balcony Room. On special occasions, such as royal weddings or jubilee celebrations, the royals gather on the balcony, watched by crowds in The Mall. If you look carefully at some of the press pictures taken at events such as Kate and William’s balcony kiss after their wedding in April 2011 (as seen in this picture by The Telegraph) you will see one of the smaller Frederick Crace chandeliers from the Royal Pavilion’s Music Room in the background.
So how did these items from Brighton find their way into Buckingham Palace?
In 1850 Queen Victoria sold the Royal Pavilion to the Corporation of Brighton, but excluded the contents of the building from this sale. In the years before the sale the Pavilion had been stripped of all its contents and decorations, including heavy pieces such as the large chandeliers and the fireplaces. Queen Victoria used many of the fittings, furniture, and decorative objects in the newly built Blore Wing of Buckingham Palace (that rather imposing side of the palace that can be seen from The Mall), creating an 1850s recycled take on the Prince Regent’s Brighton Chinoiserie scheme. To this day there is a suite of rooms in the Blore Wing of Buckingham Palace that looks remarkably similar to the interior of the Royal Pavilion.
But this doesn’t mean that what we have in Brighton is not original. Many items were returned by Queen Victoria herself as early as the 1860s, among them important large pieces, such as the two large chandeliers from the Music Room and the Banqueting Room. The larger Robert Jones’ paintings in the Banqueting Room are original, the others being very good 19th century copies. The Jones paintings in Buckingham Palace have recently been restored and re-hung in the Centre Room, so if you come across older pictures of this room you might not see them. Of the smaller Music Room chandeliers, half of the smaller ones are original.
Since 1850 several members of the royal family have been very supportive of efforts to restore the Pavilion, and have returned many original Pavilion pieces. Queen Mary was a prominent supporter in the early twentieth century, and visited the building on several occasions during World War One. Her Majesty the Queen has also very graciously returned several very important items on a permanent loan basis.
It is of course tempting to say that it would be nice to have all the original pieces returned to Brighton, but one has to bear in mind that these Chinoiserie interiors have also become an integral part of the history of Buckingham Palace. The present Royal Pavilion also reflects its history as a former royal palace that has been in municipal ownership since 1850. We should also not forget that some of the Chinese decorations that were in the Royal Pavilion during George IV’s lifetime had were taken from another building: his lavish London residence Carlton House, in which he first experimented with Chinoiserie interiors. Carlton House was demolished in the 1820s and its furniture and decorative objects taken to Buckingham House (as Buckingham Palace was then called) and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.
The history of buildings and their interiors has always been one of change, movement, inspiration and the re-use of objects in new contexts and by new owners, and it is all the more fascinating for it.
Researcher and Guide at the Royal Pavilion