The Royal Pavilion is home to many exotic beasts of one variety or another. Renowned as an orientalist fantasy, it features dragons, including the famous Dragon Chandelier in the Banqueting Room, phoenixes and snakes. Some of you may also remember the Exotic Creatures display from 2015-16 which gave an insight into some of the animals in royal collections and early zoos, and which performed in London and Brighton between c1760-1840.
Beasts were clearly a rich source of inspiration and fascination during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The newly installed Jane Austen by the Sea display contains many treasures from the Royal Pavilion & Museums’ collections, as well as some exciting loans from the Royal Collection and the Jane Austen House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire. One of the highlights is an extraordinarily rare satirical print from the Royal Pavilion’s archives in which you can have a small game of ‘spot the beast’.
Titled Lumps of Pudding the print is a hand-coloured etching produced in 1811 by William Heath (1795-1840), after Henry William Bunbury (1750-1811). Made up of five sheets, the print is an impressive 239 cm (93.7 inches) – 2.4 m (8 feet) long. It shows 18 extravagantly dressed dancing couples in a strip design, and if you look closely, one of the women is wearing a blue dragon in her hair. Some of the other exotic headpieces feature such creations as a windmill and an early version of the Isabella Blow/Philip Treacy sailing ship!
We are delighted to have been able to include Lumps of Pudding in the display as it nearly did not feature at all. While it was considered to be in ‘exhibitable’ condition, it is extremely fragile and needed a lot of painstaking conservation, so its inclusion was in doubt. Its size was also problematic as it is quite difficult to fit in the display cases, particularly as it cannot be bent due to its age and fragility. After a huge amount of debate and soul-searching, the exhibition team decided that it is so funny, and so visually interesting, that it justified the amount of conservation needed. It perfectly illustrates the entertainment available, and the accomplishments expected of well brought up ladies in Jane Austen’s time.
Lumps of Pudding was a popular country-dance tune in the 18th century, and it was usually danced in progressive sets of four. The print shows 18 comically mismatched couples dancing vigorously and awkwardly, and with varying levels of enthusiasm. The women are wearing simple high-waisted gowns, and the men are distinguished by their hairstyles depending on their ages: the elder men have powdered hair and small pigtails, while the younger men have frizzed hair without powder, either short or with small tails. They all wear flat heeled dancing shoes. One woman is clutching her small dog under her arm while she dances, while her companion is stiffly dancing with his cane under his arm and his hands in his pockets: the pampered dog definitely looks happier than he does.
Progressive sets are dances where the head and bottom couple sit out a round in alternate sets, and gradually work their way up or down the dance when they rejoin it. This enables everyone to have a break, and you can see this in the print. The couple at the far left, and the man mopping his brow and holding his wig on the far right, are having their resting turn. It is not clear whether the man’s partner is not shown, or whether she is the woman with the fan, walking away from him about six people in, but it is clear that he is probably quite relieved to be able to catch his breath. If you have ever been to a ceilidh, barn dance or Scottish country dance you will probably have experienced something similar.
You can hear versions of Lumps of Pudding in the British Library’s sound archive, and there are also some recordings available on YouTube. Everybody, take your partners!
Jo Essex, Post-graduate Art History student at Sussex University and volunteer to Alexandra Loske, curator of Jane Austen by the Sea.
Jane Austen by the Sea opened at the Prince Regent Gallery in the Royal Pavilion on 17 June and will run until 8 January 2018. Free with Royal Pavilion admission; members free.