Sussex academic inspired Chinese VIP to visit Royal Pavilion
The director of a major new art museum in China was “bewildered” but “very interested” as he was shown around Brighton’s Royal Pavilion for the first time by a University of Sussex art historian.
Lu Peng, the director of MOCA – a new museum of contemporary art opening in Yinchuan, China this year – was given a tour of the building on Saturday (24 January) as part of increasing cultural exchanges between the University, and the UK in general, and China.
An expert in the Pavilion – King George IV’s Regency pleasure palace - the University’s Dr Alexandra Loske guided Mr Peng through the building’s oriental-inspired interior. He was particularly interested in a dragon chandelier in the banqueting room and wallpaper of Chinese scenes, as well as examples of Chinese export art.
Alexandra, now an Associate Tutor in Art History, said: “He hadn’t seen the Royal Pavilion before but I think he liked it.
“The Pavilion is so extraordinary because it’s so complete as an oriental building. He was quite bewildered by it.”
For her Sussex PhD, completed last summer, Alexandra spent six years with curators and experts at the Pavilion in her quest to uncover the rich and colourful history of the building’s interior décor.
Never having been to China, George IV’s interior decorators used books, prints and export ware as sources for the Pavilion. The resulting designs amused Mr Peng, who is an author of many books on contemporary Chinese art. Alexandra added: “At times he would just start laughing at the faux Chinese writing and the dragons that don't really resemble Chinese dragons.”
Mr Peng made the trip from China after hearing Alexandra talk about the Royal Pavilion and Georgian Britain’s fascination with the Far East during a convention at the new MOCA building last September. She was invited on the trip by a fellow Sussex art historian, PhD student Joshua Gong, who also organised Mr Peng’s reciprocal visit to Brighton.
Joshua said: “The British Monarchs were extremely fond of China - even the imagined one - while the Chinese Emperors paid nearly no attention to Great Britain. Chinese people would be very interested in knowing more about and reflecting upon how the British drove China into the modern era.”
Alexandra said of her trip: “I introduced George IV’s extravagant English seaside pavilion to an interested and inquisitive Chinese audience. I felt honoured to be part of this, and on a personal level it was a most exciting way to present years of research work.”
While in China, Alexandra got the chance to visit the Forbidden City, the Chinese imperial palace in Beijing, when it was closed to tourists. “The emptiness of the squares normally packed with thousands of visitors was simply stunning,” she recalled. “I was thus able to concentrate on the intricate ornamental details of the temples and bridges.
“Suddenly much of what I had been reading about or researching over the last few years made a lot more sense: I had been studying mostly Chinoiserie, not Chinese art, but there I was, finally able to see what had inspired Europeans more than 200 years ago.
“I will never look at a dragon ornament in the same way again, having seen the real thing in such privileged circumstances and with such expert guides. And I guess for Lu Peng it must have been quite similar, having studied the subject for so long and then seeing it. And the Pavilion is the most extreme, most complete example of this. There’s no other building like it in Europe.”
You can read a longer account of Alexandra’s trip on the Royal Pavilion website.
There is now interest from officials at the Forbidden City to make a documentary film about the Royal Pavilion for a Chinese audience.
Notes for editors
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