George wanted to impress and amaze his guests, and this magnificent room still does that, nearly two centuries later. After the subdued Entrance Hall and the atmospheric but slender Long Gallery, walking into the Banqueting Room is like stepping into a new world. And this was exactly George’s intention. Spectacular and dramatic, the Banqueting Room is a lavish celebration of an imaginary China. Our eyes are drawn upwards, first to the magnificent chandelier, then to the carved, silvered dragon that clutches it in his claws, and finally to the canopy of plantain leaves above. If you look closely, you will see that there are three-dimensional carved leaves beneath the painted leaves. It’s another of George’s visual tricks, and adds to the illusion of depth.
Look around the room and you will see there are dragons everywhere, as well as Oriental figures and motifs continuing the Chinese theme. Red and gold dominate here today, but in George’s time, there was also lots of silver, which has been over-painted and covered with varnish, and has now discoloured. The overall effect would have been even more dazzling than it is now. The Banqueting Room was predominantly used at night, when it would have come alive with the flickering of oil lamps reflecting from the chandeliers and from all the gold and silver around the room. Imagine too the roaring fires in the large fireplaces at each end, and the flickering light from the line of four ornate lamps or torchères either side of the room.
The room was decorated in 1817 by Robert Jones. Though little is known of Jones’ work outside the Pavilion, he was clearly one of the finest and most versatile decorative artists of his day. He provided designs for every ornamental medium in the building – chandeliers, woodwork, marble chimney pieces, furniture, draperies, gilt bronze and painted mural decorations. He also included several Masonic symbols, and if you look carefully at the coved canopies above the fireplaces you’ll be able to find fabulous beasts, heavenly bodies and sun rays, all of which are discreet references to George’s involvement with the Freemasons.
George hosted sumptuous banquets here, often with dozens of courses. They went on for hours, after which guests would retire to one of the rooms leading on from the Banqueting Room to play cards, listen to music or dance.
We’ll be returning to the Banqueting Room shortly, to learn more about George’s elaborate dinners.