George IV’s sisters and their oriental fantasies

George IV had no fewer than 14 siblings. Of these it was his brother William who left the most visible mark on the appearance of the Royal Pavilion. He succeeded George to the throne as William IV in 1830 and in the following seven years made significant changes to the estate, adding, for example, two magnificent gates at the south and north entrance. Only the North Gate survives in its William IV state. Much less is known about the role their sisters played in shaping George’s taste, especially in respect of oriental or ‘Chinoiserie’ style.

While the exotic buildings dotted around Kew Gardens, for example the Great Pagoda, may have been a formative influence on George IV’s taste for Oriental architecture in general, with regard to interior design schemes, he was greatly inspired by female members of his family, both his mother, Queen Charlotte, and his sisters Charlotte (the Princess Royal), Elizabeth and Augusta.  In interior design Chinoiserie had long been associated with women.

A well-known painting by Johann Zoffany shows Queen Charlotte in her sitting room in Buckingham House (later Buckingham Palace) in c.1765, in the company of her eldest sons George and William, aged three and two. While on this occasion Charlotte is dressed in typical Rococo dress, her sons are wearing fancy dress costume, George the uniform of a Graeco-Roman soldier and William Middle Eastern garb with turban. Charlotte, too, was known to have been portrayed in Oriental costume and to have attended masquerade balls. The furnishings and decorative objects in the room reflect Charlotte’s interest in collecting Oriental goods and export ware, such as blue and white china. On the mantelpiece, two Chinese nodding figures can be seen, which appear almost identical to those later displayed in the Long Gallery of the Royal Pavilion.

George IV would also have been familiar with the substantial collection of blue and white china (export ware as well as European imitations) introduced to the English court by Queen Mary II (r. 1689-1694) at Hampton Court and Kensington Palace and continued by his mother and sisters.

Queen Charlotte had several rooms at Windsor Castle and Buckingham House designed in a Chinoiserie style or embellished with Chinoiserie elements. Although these interiors do not survive, they are well recorded in William Henry Pyne’s History of the Royal Residences (London: L. Harrison for A. Dry, 1819), an ambitious publishing project in three volumes, containing 100 high-quality aquatint views of royal buildings, after watercolours by Charles Wild, James Stephanoff and other artists.

 

Photograph of Frogmore House today, by Alexandra Loske

At Frogmore House in Windsor Great Park, the creativity of female members of the Royal Family resulted in several complete Chinoiserie schemes in the early nineteenth century. Frogmore House, in Pyne named ‘Queen’s House’, had long been associated with female royal occupants, such as Queen Anne and Queen Caroline. In 1792 Queen Charlotte renewed the lease on the house and instructed Mr Wyatt to convert the existing house into a neo-classical villa set in a picturesque environment. Following these improvements, the house and its setting were frequently used for fetes, concerts and garden parties from 1795 onwards. The house also became strongly associated with two of George’ sisters, the Princesses Elizabeth and the Princess Royal (Charlotte).

 

Details of both of the above, showing the female figures, possibly George’s sisters, occupying the spaces

While the Princess Royal and Princess Augusta had inherited their mother’s interest in drawing, engraving and botanical illustration, Princess Elizabeth was particularly interested in the interior decoration of several royal residences. With some input from the Princess Royal, she is considered to be the designer of three Chinoiserie interiors of Frogmore House, two of which she appears to have partly executed herself. In Pyne’s Royal Residences two of the six aquatints based on Wild’s watercolours depict these interiors: the (Red) Japan Room and the Green Closet. A further Black Japan Room and a barely described India Room are not illustrated.

 

Both the Princess Royal and Princess Elizabeth are credited by Pyne with producing much of the ornamental painting of the walls of Frogmore and at the Queen’s Lodge’ (the latter probably referring to the Queen’s cottage orné at Kew). Elizabeth is credited with painting the panels and some of the furniture in the red Japan Room: ‘The walls of this apartment were painted, in imitation of rich japan, by her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth; the furniture was ornamented by the same tasteful hand.’ The room appears to have been further embellished with a combination of Chinese teapots and European imitations of Chinese porcelain. Elizabeth also appears to have created the walls of the Black Japan Room, a room in which, according to Pyne, ‘an additional interest is excited, in knowing that the taste which the room displays, is all the work of female ingenuity’, since the embroidery of the upholstery and soft furnishings was carried out by a school for orphans established under the patronage of Queen Charlotte.

 

The red Japan Room was the central room facing the garden on the ground floor of Frogmore House and is now called the Yellow Drawing Room. What the Royal Pavilion interiors and the japanned rooms at Frogmore House have in common is a radical and assured transformation from a classically inspired style, including garlands, medallions, urns and trellis-work, to a Chinoiserie style created sometime between 1797 and 1807. In a letter from September 1807 Princess Elizabeth, who is known to have introduced neo-classical garlands to the room in 1793, tells her friend Lady Cathcart: ‘I am busy putting up my Japan room at Frogmore, which place [sic] is as dear to me as ever’.

After Charles Wild Frogmore House: The Japan Room, aquatint, 1819

 

After Charles Wild, Frogmore House: The Green Closet, aquatint, 1819

The Green Closet at Frogmore is described as an ‘apartment fitted up with original japan, of a beautiful fabric, on a pure green ground. The cabinets and chairs are of Indian cane.’ Some of the numerous oriental objects seen in Wild’s watercolour may have been presents given by the Emperor Qianlong to George III in 1793, suggesting that most of the interior consisted of authentic oriental materials and objects. Tellingly, both the red Japan Room and the Green Closet are clearly represented as female spaces in the illustrations: both watercolours show the rooms occupied by seated women; in the case of the Green Closet a single seated female figure reading, and in the case of the red Japan Room two seated female figures writing and in conversation. This was perhaps supposed to underline both the creative origins of these specific interiors and the association of Chinoiserie interiors with female tastes. None of the oriental interiors at Frogmore survive, but some of these lacquer panels were probably transferred to the Princess Elizabeth’s married home, Schloss Homburg in Hessen, Germany, where fragments survive in the ‘English wing’ of the palace.

 

As complete interior design schemes, these rooms are of great significance to the development of the decorative schemes of the Pavilion in Brighton. Like the Royal Pavilion’s Chinoiserie schemes, they are a post-Rococo manifestation of the Chinoiserie fashion and represent the late, more vibrant flowering of what was considered a feminine style. It is unclear whether the Chinese interiors at George’s London residence Carlton House or the first Chinese interior at the Royal Pavilion preceded these rooms at Frogmore, but a mutual influence and inspiration among the Royal siblings can be assumed and might explain the sudden cluster of early nineteenth century Chinoiserie interiors in the circle of George IV.

 

Alexandra Loske

Curator, Royal Pavilion Archives

 

One volume of Pyne’s Royal Residences and two of the original watercolours by Charles Wild will be on display in the upcoming Jane Austen by the Sea display in the Royal Pavilion. 17 June 2017 to 8 January 2018.

Jane Austen by the Sea will form part of our Regency Season in 2017, which will also include the exhibition Constable and Brighton, and the display Visions of the Royal Pavilion Estate (both at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery).