The Royal Pavilion: Orientalism at its finest

King George IV was born in 1762 at St. James Palace. He indulged in many scandalous escapades and had a taste for extravagant lifestyle, positioning himself as polar opposite of his father King George III, who was conventional and demure. King George IV’s exorbitant expenditures garnered significant debt for the state. BBC’s account of King George IV names him “The Royal Joke,” going so far as saying that “even his birth was dogged by the sort of absurdity which was to dominate his life,” referring to the Earl of Huntingdon mistakenly pronouncing him as a girl at his birth. His indulgent lifestyle led to the construction of the ostentatious décor in the Royal Pavilion.

The Royal Pavilion is located in Brighton, which was many royals’ favorite getaway. The palace was completed in 1823 with Indian-inspired exterior architecture and Chinese-inspired interior. In the front of the brochure advertising the Royal Pavilion, it states at the very top “Discover the palace of the king who tore up the rulebook,” celebrating him as an innovative and contemporary figure. It further describes the palace as “the most exotically beautiful buildings in Britain” with “fantastical backdrops that set the fashions of their day.”

The architect in charge of this palace was John Nash. Many of his ideas stemmed from the book Oriental Scenery by Thomas and William Daniell, which thoroughly explains the overarching concept behind this building. The Royal Pavilion is the epitome of Orientalism.  During the tour, the audio guide stated that the exterior of the palace resembles some elements of Indian architecture but its arrangement and composition are European. It even acknowledges that an Indian visitor would not recognize this architecture. Looking at the high ceiling and slowly gazing down the decorative wall, every inch of the palace’s banquet hall screams theatricality. At the apex of the ceiling, there is a painting with three-dimensional pieces of canopy leaves branching out from the middle. Almost at the top of the chandelier, there are sharp reflective spikes shaped like a star to further amplify the lights from the candles and lamps below. The chandelier itself has six gilded dragons, with glaring lotus glass shades placed at their mouths to emulate a dragon breathing fire. Each piece of furniture, down to the edges, is lined with gold, blatantly flaunting the fact that the royals spared no expense. The long banquet table could seat almost thirty guests, and at parties, up to 70 dishes were served. The audio guide said that guests and courtiers were never really expected to eat or finish them; the dishes were ostentatiously prepared mostly for show, adding to the grandiosity. The wall in each room contains endless rows of Chinese paintings. The railing of the staircase is painted to resemble bamboo, adding to the Chinese-inspired décor.

The discrepancy and disconnect between the interior and exterior of the Royal Pavilion show the underlying implication of this palace. It shows King George IV’s impulse for extravagance and ostentation and highlights his lack of genuine appreciation and respect for the culture that this pleasure palace shamelessly exploits.

-Natty Maneerit ’18




Parissien, Steven. “BBC – History – British History in depth: George IV: The Royal Joke?” BBC News.       BBC, 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2017..

“Architecture.” Royal Pavilion. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2017..


Author: maneeritn

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