The Illuminated Palace

On 1 November the London-based digital artwork studio SDNA will illuminate the exterior of the Royal Pavilion in order to mark and celebrate the opening of the exhibition Turner in Brighton at the Pavilion. Amongst other sources SDNA will use images and audio from the Regency Colour and Beyond display and colour artwork created by Brighton students. The event is free and starts at 6pm, finishing at 10pm; just drop in.

The Illuminated Palace
The Illuminated Palace

There is a long tradition of illuminating the Royal Pavilion, the Pavilion gardens and other buildings in Brighton on special occasions. On 17 August 1795 the Sussex Weekly Advertiser reported that 1400 spectators watched fireworks and illuminations in Promenade Grove (at the west end of the Pavilion Gardens, bordering on to New Road) in honour of the Prince of Wales’s birthday:

‘The fireworks at the Promenade Grove, Brighton, were truly magnificent. The decorations were applicable and the illuminations tasteful and splendid.’

Turner in Brighton
Turner in Brighton

A further upcoming event was advertised in the same issue: ‘On Wednesday next, the 19th of August, the gardens will be decorated, and brilliantly illuminated with coloured lamps, in various devices.’ Throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century papers frequently report illuminations in the windows of private houses. It is possible that these were handmade lanterns, made from coloured or painted glass or waxed paper.

An early illustration of the Royal Pavilion illuminated in the age of electricity can be found in a 1903 edition of John George Bishop’s guidebook The Brighton Pavilion and its Royal and Municipal Associations. Here Bishop describes breathlessly the illumination of the building in celebration of King Edward VII’s coronation in 1902:

‘Never has the Pavilion presented such a scene of enchantment as it did during this memorable Coronation year. […] On August 9th King Edward was actually crowned, and then the illuminations […] were seen in all their dazzling magnificence. For many days Brighton had had the tantalising vision of the Pavilion, embroidered with rows upon rows and festoons upon festoons of coloured lamps, though unlit, gave a singularly picturesque touch to the Royal edifice. And when at last came the time for lighting up, then the exterior of the structure was a spectacle of splendour such as left enduring memories for all privileged to see it. The elaborate western front seemed a lace-work of glowing points, lines of light running up each angle of its many-sided pillars, following the arches and tracery of the windows, outlining balconies and fantastic battlements, and clustering up to the base of the minarets and domes.’

A mezzotint of a black and white photograph of the western front of the Pavilion accompanies the description, but the lines of lights were clearly painted on to the photograph or mezzotint. Still, within the limits of photographic reproduction at the time it is a fascinating image.

Coronation illuminations 1902
Coronation illuminations 1902

This might remind one of the current white illuminations of Harrods department store in London, but Bishop explains that the lights of the Pavilion in 1902 were in fact multi-coloured:

‘The intricate work of lines of blue, of white, of ruby, of emerald, set with devices, like glowing jewels, of initials, crowns and stars, made a spectacle of appealing charm.’ On the other side, he continues, ‘the lights were closer and more brilliant in effect as they shone in amber and emerald up the façade of octagonal pillars into arches, they blazed out in a splendid effulgence.’

The Pavilion gates, too, were illuminated, and the lawns were encircled with light (probably gas light) and decorated with Japanese lanterns, while neighbouring estates and buildings responded by adding their own decorations. The new library, for example, created “an elaborate design in turquoise, emerald, and amber, representing a Chinese pagoda, with flanking walls and gateway.”

Sadly, not many images of these illuminations survive, but if you know of any please contact the Royal Pavilion using the form below.

Alexandra Loske, Guide and Researcher at the Royal Pavilion

 

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