One of the most opulent interiors from the Regency, the Prince Regent’s Saloon at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton opened in September after a major restoration that returned it to its full glory
When George IV originally commissioned Robert Jones to create a radiant principal reception room for the Royal Pavilion in Brighton he wanted something that conveyed his new status as king. George ascended to the throne in 1820 and Jones fashioned splendidly regal decoration in gold, silver and crimson with a domed ceiling boasting a heavenly decoration of clouds against an azure blue sky.
As befitted its location at the newly expanded Royal Pavilion, the saloon became a landmark in exotic design with a decoration complemented by woven silk panels, magnificent drapery and specially designed cabinets to show off the king’s taste in Oriental ware.
When Queen Victoria came to the throne Brighton lost favour as a Royal holiday home and the decoration and the carpets were lost around the time of the pavilion’s sale to Brighton’s local authority in 1850. Many of the original fixtures and fittings were removed – including the saloon carpet – on the order of the Royal household.
Although some of these items have returned over the years, and other parts of the Pavilion have been restored, it wasn’t until 2002 that glimpses of Jones’ original silvered leaves scheme were revealed on the ceiling of the Saloon, during work to address a water leak.
With the help of a watercolour by A.C. Pugin for John Nash’s book, Views of the Royal Pavilion, (published in 1823 just three years after Nash finished his improvements), a team of designers, conservators and craftsmen led by Pavilion Keeper David Beevers took over ten years to complete the complex restoration project.
The painstaking and highly-skilled work involved recreating the original silver and ‘pearl white’ wall decoration, installing specially-woven silk panels and drapery, cabinets, gilded frames and surfaces and fitting a reproduction of the original carpet.
Conservation work also included structural work to the Saloon dome and stabilising and cleaning the magnificent painted sky ceiling.
The circular room is now awash with glittering décor and fixtures which have taken hours of historic research to restore to as close as possible to the original design. The room is completed with furniture returned to the Royal Pavilion courtesy of the Royal Collections from Buckingham Palace – including an elaborate pot pourri bowl made for the Pavilion.
Specially woven red and gold drapes were designed after a series of chance discoveries, including a lost piece of fabric and a long-lost photo. Painstaking detective work also led to the recreation of a vibrant carpet, which took months to design and is the most lavish ever created by Royal carpet makers Axminster.
The walls now glimmer with hand-applied platinum leaf motifs – using platinum leaf instead of silver to prevent tarnishing – every one placed individually and painted with shadows by a team of conservators.
The Royal Pavilion is one of the most remarkable buildings in Europe and attracts more than 350,000 visitors a year. With the completion of the Saloon, all three grand state rooms at the former Royal palace, including the Banqueting Room and the Music Room, now each reflect their original 1823 design scheme.
Watch a video about the Saloon restoration and explore the room in detail via a 360° viewer at brightonmuseums.org.uk/royalpavilion/whattosee/saloon/360-view-of-the-saloon/