The interior of the Royal Pavilion may feel like an exotic fantasy, but it is also a legacy of a failed diplomatic mission to China that took place in the 1790s.

William Alexander’s ‘The Costume of China’, 1805

The Costume of China, by William Alexander, 1805

Artist William Alexander visited China in 1792-3 as part of the Macartney Embassy to China. Although primarily a diplomatic mission to improve trade relations between Britain and China, Alexander was one of a small number of artists and scientists who accompanied the mission to help record a country that few Westerners had seen at that time. The mission would prove to be a failure, but Alexander was able to produce over two thousand drawings of the country.

On his return to England, Alexander’s images were initially used to illustrate official accounts of the mission. In 1805 Alexander published The Costume of China, which featured 48 aquatints showing Chinese costume, life and architecture.

As rare and authentic glimpse at a faraway country, Alexander’s illustrations became both popular and influential. They certainly inspired Frederick Crace, one of the interior decorators of the Royal Pavilion. Several of the Chinese figures that can be seen in the Royal Pavilion have been directly copied from Alexander’s book.

Photo of Comedian figure from William Alexander's Costume in China and on a staircase in the Royal Pavilion
Comedian figure from William Alexander’s Costume in China and on a staircase in the Royal Pavilion

‘The Costume of China’ slideshow

More information