Royal Pavilion’s dazzling colour is the subject of researcher’s display

Abstract study of blue, Mary Gartside, from 'An essay on light and shade', 1805. Image: Alexandra Loske

Hand-painted wallpaper from the Royal Pavilion. Copyright Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Illustration from Frank Howard’s painters‘manual 'Colour, as a Means of Art', 1838. Image: Alexandra Loske

Pigments and colour wheel similar to those on display at the Royal Pavilion Brighton. Image: Alexandra Loske

Alexandra Loske with exhibits from the Regency Colour and Beyond exhibition at the Royal Pavilion Brighton

An additional feast for the eyes awaits visitors to the Royal Pavilion Brighton at a special display inspired by University of Sussex research that opens to the public on Saturday (15 June 2013).

Alexandra Loske, who is working for a doctorate in Art History, is the curator of Regency Colour and Beyond – 1785-1850, a temporary display in the Royal Pavilion that draws on Alexandra’s research into the 19th-century fascination for colour as revealed in the famously spectacular décor of the Royal Pavilion Brighton.

Objects on display include rare books about colour from the period, beautiful original wallpaper fragments from the Royal Pavilion and objects such as a 19th-century artist’s paint box and jars of pigments.

Alexandra’s research involved working closely with the Royal Pavilion’s conservation team, specialist libraries and with scientists at the National Gallery, who analysed pigment samples taken from the Royal Pavilion.

The period’s renewed fascination for colour partly arose from the Romantic Movement’s artistic focus on nature, beauty and the effects of colour, and was further fuelled by the invention of many synthetic pigments. This was reflected in fashionable tastes of the day, as demonstrated in practical guidance books on interior design and watercolour painting and the extensive use of novel pigments such as 18th-century Prussian Blue and 19th-century Chrome Yellow (examples of which can be seen in the Royal Pavilion).

The Prince Regent (later King George IV) played an important role in the development of colour fashions because of his personal involvement in lavish projects such as the opulent Royal Pavilion, the best known surviving example from the period of radical experimentation with colour schemes and surface finishes.

The Regent’s love of chinoiserie and lavish decoration led to innovative design ideas and experimental techniques, such as using silver as a colour, often with added coloured glazes (the Pavilion is a unique British example of this rare practice). Some of the Regent’s design and colour choices were reported in early illustrated fashion magazines, thus influencing popular tastes.

The display includes fine examples of colour literature from the period. Some colour studies served as practical guides for artists, scientists and ‘colourmen’ who supplied pigments to some of the great artists of the day, including J. M. W. Turner.1  Turner was hugely interested in colour theory and included British and German ideas about colour in his teaching. Many publications were also concerned with establishing a colour system, often represented as wheels or charts.

Rare and valuable books in the exhibition come from various important collections, including an early fashion magazine from the University of Sussex, a book with the first detailed colour wheel published in Britain from the Royal College of Art and a publication by Brighton-based Mary Merrifield from Brighton’s Jubilee Library.

One of the rarest and most unusual books on display is a first edition (1805) of a work by the artist and colour theorist Mary Gartside, who included eight beautiful hand-painted abstract colour compositions in each copy.

The exhibition also offers a rare glimpse of an earlier, more classically inspired and relatively restrained decorative scheme that was replaced by the Regent in favour of the later intensely coloured designs.

Alexandra Loske says: “Putting this display together has been a hugely rewarding experience and it felt like condensing all my research into something that any visitor to the Royal Pavilion can enjoy. I hope that some people will be amazed by both the daring design schemes in this very special building, and by the historical background to the colours and finishes they see.

“The display feels like a very fitting conclusion to a collaborative scholarship. Throughout my research I was encouraged to engage with many experts in related fields, and the same applied to this project. It was a truly collaborative effort that would not have been possible without the teamwork of the Royal Pavilion’s conservation team, curators and administrators, as well as several other institutions.”

Alexandra’s doctorate is one of several collaborative doctorates funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) at the University of Sussex. Collaborative doctorates give researchers an opportunity to work with important institutions and their collections under the supervision of academics and partner professionals such as curators and archivists.

Later this month Alexandra will give a presentation about the Royal Pavilion display at Yale University in the USA, where she will be attending seminar on colour at the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut.

Notes for Editors

Regency Colour and Beyond 1785-1850’ runs at the Royal Pavilion at Brighton from 15 June to 13 October 2013. Entry is free with admission to the Royal Pavilion.

1 Turner In Brighton will open at the Royal Pavilion Brighton on 2 November 2013. It centres on the recent acquisition of Turner’s watercolour Brighthelmston, Sussex (1824).

Regency Colour Curator’s Tour: Wednesday 3 July, repeated Monday, 16 September, at the Royal Pavilion, 1-1.30pm. Free with Royal Pavilion admission. Alexandra Loske, co-curator of Regency Colour , will deliver an introduction to the displays. There will also be a number of related curator’s talks, which are advertised in the What’s On Guide.

Regency Colour is presented as part of the INTERREG IV, a France (Channel) – England European cross-border co-operation programme, which is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email:

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Last updated: Friday, 2 August 2013