Why were the original interiors of the Royal Pavilion so brightly coloured?
Clear tints of primary colours were in vogue in the early 19th century. The fashion for this colourful palette distinguished the Regency period from the pale neo-classical decorations favoured by the previous generation. The use of colour was inspired by the arts of China, which were admired and collected by George IV.
His English decorators echoed the range of colours seen in Chinese export paintings, wallpapers, ceramics and silks, exploration of antique sites in Italy and Greece had shown that classical civilisations also made extensive use of primary colours.
What colours were used?
The colours in the carpets and curtains have faded but some paintwork has survived. Minute samples from walls, woodwork and wallpaper can be studied using polarised light microscopy and the pigments identified. More sophisticated analysis can reveal the precise molecular structure of the colour. Although many bright colours were used side by side, the overall effect was harmonious, as the juxtapositions were carefully judged. This balance was helped by the fact only a few colours were used, mainly two pigments from each of the primary colour groups.
A bright, opaque, pillar box red, vermilion (made from mercury and sulphur) is the oldest man-made pigment, the manufacture of which was probably first understood in China.
A beautiful crimson lake made from cochineal insects found in Mexico. Carmine was an expensive colour specifically mentioned in the Royal Pavilion accounts for the decorations. Its transparency allowed it to be used as a glaze over vermilion or silver to create rich lacquer-like effects.
Yellow: Chrome Yellow
Advances made in chemistry at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century allowed new synthetic pigments to be made. Chrome Yellow was one of these new colours. It was used extensively in the Royal Pavilion, almost as soon as manufacture of this brilliant bright yellow began.
Yellow: Turner’s Patent Yellow
A brilliant sparkly yellow, this is another man–made pigment, based on lead. It is rarely found and is not made today. It was used sparingly in the building, so may have been difficult to make in large quantities.
Blue: Prussian Blue
An intense, deep colour, Prussian Blue was used for both opaque and transparent blue finishes all over the Pavilion. Prussian Blue was first made at the beginning of the 18th century in Germany by an alchemist and a colourman working together. It is regarded as the first ‘modern’ colour.
Blue: Blue Verditer
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. The verditer found in the Pavilion is of a very high quality.
Stable green colours were in short supply until later in the 19th century. Many of the greens found in the Pavilion are mixtures of Prussian Blue and yellow. A green version of verditer was also used.
There is a transparent green found in the Pavilion, used as a glaze over silver. So far this green has not been identified.