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 Frederick, 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. 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. The house and its setting were frequently used for fetes, concerts and garden parties from 1795 onwards and 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

Princess Elizabeth was particularly interested in the interior decoration of several royal residences. 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.

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 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. 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.

It is unclear whether these rooms at Frogmore preceded the first Chinese interior at the Royal Pavilion, but as complete interior design schemes they may well have inspired George to develop and change his Chinoiserie schemes in Brighton.

 

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).