Blue in the Royal Pavilion

In the 1820s the writer Richard Sickelmore described the newly finished Royal Pavilion interiors as ‘a splendour of light and colour’. George’s eccentric tastes and spending habits help explain the particularly exuberant use of colours in high saturation.  Pigments found in the Royal Pavilion tend to be of high quality and George embraced the use of new pigments.

The South Galleries in 1823, from John Nash’s The Royal Pavilion at Brighton, 1826
The South Galleries in 1823, from John Nash’s The Royal Pavilion at Brighton, 1826
View of the South Galleries
View of the South Galleries

Two types of blue pigment have been identified in the building: Prussian Blue and Blue Verditer.

Prussian Blue, also known as Berlin Blue or German Blue, was used for both opaque and transparent blue finishes all over the Royal Pavilion.  It is an iron compound and was probably invented by the German chemist and colourman Heinrich Diesbach in Berlin in 1706 (hence the name). At the time he was working and experimenting with the alchemist Johann Konrad Dippel. An intense, deep colour, Prussian Blue is often considered the first ‘modern’ colour, i.e. anorganic and synthetically produced. It was a good alternative to the expensive mineral pigment ultramarine.

The earliest example of Prussian blue used in oil painting is believed to be The Entombment of Christ, painted by either Adriaen or Pieter van der Werff in 1709. Other early users were Canaletto and Watteau. By the 1720s the pigment was widely available in Europe and was mentioned by the English chemist John Woodward in 1726. From then on it was used in painting as well as an architectural colour in the production of block-printed wallpaper. The famous Blue Mauritius 2p stamp from 1847 (of which only 12 survive) was printed in the pigment Prussian Blue, as was Hiroshige’s famous woodblock print The Great Wave (1830s)

In the Pavilion we see Prussian Blue on the wallpaper of the Banqueting Room, an original fragment of which can be seen in the Regency Colour and Beyond display. This paper was block printed on a Prussian blue ground in a darker shade of blue and silver leaf. The pigment was identified in 2006 by Southampton University School of Chemistry.

Fragment of the original wallpaper from the Banqueting Room 1817–1820, designed by Robert Jones
Fragment of the original wallpaper from the Banqueting Room 1817–1820, designed by Robert Jones

Prussian Blue is also found on the bases of columns in the galleries of the upper floors, and was probably also mixed with yellow pigments to produce greens.

Blue Verditer, also known as mountain blue, copper blue or lime blue, was another artificial blue first manufactured in the 18th century. This luminous sky blue is based on copper. It was produced as a by-product during silver refining and is no longer available as a commercial pigment. Like the Prussian Blue, the verditer found in the Pavilion is of a very high quality. It was used lavishly in the wallpaper decorating the North and South Galleries on the upper floor. It was identified by Paintings Conservator Janet Brough and Peter Mctaggart in 1989.

Fragment of wallpaper from the South Galleries, upper floor, English, c.1815.  Block-printed trellis pattern on a Blue Verditer ground.
Fragment of wallpaper from the South Galleries, upper floor, English, c.1815.
Block-printed trellis pattern on a Blue Verditer ground.

Some Blue verditer was also identified in cross-sectional analysis of a piece of paint from a kylin figure from the South Galleries. The magnified image shows the luminosity of the pigment beautifully:

Cross-section showing Blue Verditer pigment ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove. Photograph: Janet Brough, 1989.
Cross-section showing Blue Verditer pigment
©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove. Photograph: Janet Brough, 1989.

Alexandra Loske, Guide and Researcher at the Royal Pavilion

2 Responses

  1. That South Galleries pic is amazing!

  2. […] Blue in the Royal Pavilion. […]

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