Nash view of the Long Gallery, 1826.
As you enter the long gallery, you immediately notice the contrast with the Entrance Hall. Wherever you look, the décor is far more elaborate. Everything is inspired by China, from the wallpaper decorated with bamboo plants to the Chinese figures standing along the length of the room.
The man responsible for this extraordinary building was George, Prince of Wales. He was born in 1762, the oldest son of George III, the so-called “mad” king. He was made Prince Regent in 1811 to carry out royal functions after his father became too ill to perform them himself. On his father’s death in 1820 he was crowned King George IV.
George’s relationship with his father was not a happy one, and as a young man he frequently visited the fashionable seaside resort at Brighton, partly to escape his father’s scrutiny, partly to enjoy its sea air and sea water cures, and partly to enjoy the company of his two pleasure-loving uncles, the Dukes of Cumberland and Gloucester.
The Pavilion is full of Chinese-inspired decoration known by the French word chinoiserie, which was very popular in England in the 18th century. The Pavilion was the first building in Britain where Chinese-inspired decoration is used throughout, rather than in just one or two rooms. George perhaps liked to see himself as a Chinese emperor, and this was part of his court, complete with courtiers in the form of the small Chinese figures with nodding heads. Or perhaps it was partly to annoy his conservative father.
Chinese nodding figures
There is nothing quite as intriguing as the Chinese nodding figures in the Long Gallery. Made in about 1805 to 1810 in Canton for export to the West, they’re constructed of bamboo, paper and unfired clay, which was then painted with water- soluble paint. They can represent mandarins, court officials, jesters or traders. George had no fewer than 39 nodding figures and they were treated more as amusements than as works of art. The Royal Pavilion has one of the largest collection of these figures anywhere, many generously lent by HM the Queen.