74 The quest for His Majesty’s silk

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Edited by Michael Hall

The cur­rent restora­tion of the Sa­loon at the Brighton Pav­il­ion faced a ma­jor chal­lenge, re­veals Annabel West­man

The cur­rent restora­tion of the Sa­loon at the Brighton Pav­il­ion faced a ma­jor chal­lenge in re-cre­at­ing this spec­tac­u­lar Re­gency room, as none of its orig­i­nal ‘Gera­nium and Gold Colour’ silk was known to sur­vive. Annabel West­man re­veals the de­tec­tive story that led to its re­dis­cov­ery

BUILT for Ge­orge IV when he was Prince of Wales, the Royal Pav­il­ion in Brighton is one of the most ex­trav­a­gant build­ings of its age. Be­tween the Prince first tak­ing a lease of the site, in 1786, and the Pav­il­ionõs com­ple­tion in 1823, it was ex­tended, re­mod­elled and re­dec­o­rated to serve his de­mand for daz­zling dis­play and lux­u­ri­ous com­fort.

At its heart is the Sa­loon. Although the only ma­jor in­te­rior to re­tain its 1780s form, it was re­dec­o­rated sev­eral times be­fore be­ing given its fi­nal in­car­na­tion by the artist-de­signer Robert Jones. As part of a ma­jor restora­tion be­gun in 2011, and due to be com­pleted in 2017, the Sa­loon is be­ing re­stored as faith­fully as pos­si­ble to its ap­pear­ance in 1823, as recorded in a wa­ter­colour by A. C. Pu­gin com­mis­sioned for John Nashõs Views of the Royal Pav­il­ion, pub­lished in 1826 ( Fig 1).

How­ever, the project faced a ma­jor dif­fi­culty. The Sa­loon owed much of its splen­dour to the Ôgera­nium and Gold Colour Silkõ used by Jones for wall hang­ings and up­hol­stery, but it had van­ished without trace, recorded only in a de­scrip­tion in an 1828 in­ven­tory and, in hazy de­tail, in Pug­inõs wa­ter­colour. All ev­i­dence of the silk may have been re­moved in 1847Ð8, when the Sa­loon was stripped of its con­tents prior to Queen Vic­to­ri­aõs sale of the Pav­il­ion to the town of Brighton in 1850, when many of the fur­nish­ings and fit­tings were taken to Buck­ing­ham Palace. Af­ter a hunt through the Royal Col­lec­tion and var­i­ous tex­tile ar­chives pro­duced no leads, the quest for the silk turned into se­ri­ous de­tec­tive work.

The fab­ric had been used in the Sa­loon to line six wall pan­els, make up three sets of cur­tains and full draperies and cover all the up­hol­stered seat fur­ni­tureñ17 chairs with stuffed seats and backs, two side ot­tomans Ôto fit the sweepõ of the oval room and a cen­tral cir­cu­lar ot­toman, 6ft in di­am­e­ter. Af­ter all ef­forts to find a sam­ple had failed, thoughts be­gan to turn towards bas­ing the de­sign on another silk com­mis­sioned for Ge­orge IV, a gold-coloured and Ôpon­ceau [poppy] ground fig­ured tis­sueõ, of which an un­used length sur­vives. How­ever, although sim­i­lar in its ver­ti­cal pat­tern framed by a leaf border, it did­nõt match the de­scrip­tion of the orig­i­nal, a Ôrich crim­son ground satin, yel­low bird flower and scroll pat­ternõ, nor its colours, as Ôpop­pyõ is not Ôgera­ni­umõ.

The silk was in­tro­duced into the Sa­loon in more than one phase. An aquatint of 1823 shows the wall pan­els hung with crim­son fluted silk and chairs with plain crim­son cov­ers made up by Messrs Bai­ley and San­ders, the prom­i­nent Lon­don firm of cab­i­net­mak­ers and up­hol­ster­ers. Its bill of Jan­uary 5, 1823, con­firms that, at that stage, only the win­dow cur­tains were of Ôhis Majestyõs Gera­nium and Gold Colour Silké dec­o­rated & fringed to Mr Jonesõ de­signõ, leav­ing the wall pan­els and up­hol­stered fur­ni­ture to be in­stalled in the course of the year.

Jones is an elu­sive fig­ure, but his ge­nius as a de­signer and com­plete con­trol of the Saloonõs dec­o­ra­tion are abun­dantly clear. Itõs not known whether he al­ways in­tended to have all the roomõs tex­tiles match­ing, but there can be no doubt that heñand the Kingñs­pared no ex­pense in the pur­suit of a vi­sion dom­i­nated by pat­tern and colour. The fab­ric it­self was prob­a­bly supplied by D. & P. Cooper of 2, Water­loo Place, Pall Mall, Ôsilk mercer to His Majestyõ. ÔAN Ab­stract of Es­ti­matesõ for com­plet­ing the fit­ting up of the Sa­loon records that on June 24, 1823, the com­pany

The clue that fi­nally led to His Majesty’s silk was a chance con­ver­sa­tion

was paid £402, enough to cover all or a ma­jor part of the cost.

The clue that fi­nally led to ‘His Majesty’s Gera­nium and Gold Colour Silk’ was a chance con­ver­sa­tion with Richard Humphries of Humphries Weav­ing Ltd of Sud­bury, Suf­folk, a spe­cial­ist weaver in re­pro­duc­ing his­toric silks. In 1966, while work­ing for the silk weavers Warner & Sons in Brain­tree, Es­sex, he had been re­spon­si­ble for pho­tograph­ing some of the firm’s archive of de­signs. When he was shown a rough sketch of the Sa­loon’s silk based on Pu­gin’s wa­ter­colour, pre­pared by Gor­don Grant, for­merly Se­nior Con­ser­va­tion Of­fi­cer at the Royal Pav­il­ion, Mr Humphries recognised that it bore a re­mark­able re­sem­blance to a silk recorded in one of the blackand-white neg­a­tives he had kept af­ter Warner’s ceased pro­duc­tion in 1971 ( Fig 2).

A full-scale line drawing of this grainy im­age was im­me­di­ately com­mis­sioned, a lengthy task un­der­taken by Humphries Weav­ing’s de­signer Natalie Jones, who then spent a fur­ther 50 hours pro­duc­ing a CAD de­sign that could be used as the ba­sis for reweav­ing the silk. This still left a ma­jor un­known el­e­ment: the silk’s colour.

Right on cue, another ex­tra­or­di­nary dis­cov­ery was made when a coloured ver­sion of the de­sign was spot­ted in a re­cently pub­lished book, Selling Silks: A Mer­chant’s Sam­ple Book 1764, by Les­ley El­lis Miller, Se­nior Cu­ra­tor of Tex­tiles at the V& A. This sam­ple book has its own re­mark­able story: it was im­pounded in 1764 by Bri­tish Cus­toms to pre­vent French agents il­le­gally selling the many silk de­signs it con­tained. Among the sam­ples were two fur­nish­ing fab­rics of early-19th-cen­tury de­sign that had been bound into the book at a later date ( Fig 3). One of these was none other than a sec­tion of the de­sign in its com­plete width of 21in, show­ing one of the pat­tern’s two large mo­tifs.

This find was fun­da­men­tal to the search and not only for the colour. It pro­vided es­sen­tial in­for­ma­tion about the struc­ture of the weave (it was a tis­sue weave and not, as had been as­sumed, the sim­pler damask weave) and the di­men­sions and lay­out of the pat­tern. It had been known from the wa­ter­colour that the mo­tifs were stag­gered, but the com­plex small rosette re­peat with the off­set leaf border had not been no­tice­able.

Tak­ing into ac­count that the paint­ing was not to scale, this pat­tern lay­out cre­ated a more bal­anced fit within the wall panel. Could this piece have been an of­f­cut from the orig­i­nal fab­ric used in the Sa­loon? It was a ques­tion se­ri­ously con­sid­ered at first.

More time was spent re­draw­ing the de­sign, par­tic­u­larly the rosettes, to en­sure they ran in a per­fect di­ag­o­nal ( Fig 4) and a de­ci­sion was made to match the sam­ple’s bold mix of pink­ish crim­son (pre­sum­ably ‘gera­nium’) and acid yel­low, although both are dif­fer­ent from the more se­date crim­son and yel­low fab­rics made for Ge­orge IV that sur­vive in the Royal Col­lec­tion. How­ever, the yel­low re­mained a nig­gling con­cern. The tone didn’t match the one tex­tile ob­ject that had sur­vived from the Sa­loon, a pair of yel­low tas­sels that once formed part of the win­dow drap­ery. The colour could also not be de­scribed as ‘gold’.

While pon­der­ing this co­nun­drum, yet another sam­ple re­mark­ably came to light, prompt­ing a whole new line of en­quiry and adding another sig­nif­i­cant layer to the story. When the Royal Col­lec­tion Trust of­fered to lend some chairs orig­i­nally from the Sa­loon, it was dis­cov­ered that a piece of silk fab­ric of the same de­sign had been pre­served in the Wind­sor up­hol­stery work­shop, framed on the wall ( Fig 5). This frag­ment had been re­moved from a set of bergère chairs in 1976, at the time of The Queen’s Sil­ver Ju­bilee, when they were re-cov­ered for use in the Royal Closet at Buck­ing­ham Palace. Made in about 1812 for the Prince Re­gent’s Lon­don home, Carl­ton House, the

chairs are at­trib­uted to Morel and Hughes, a Lon­don firm that he pa­tro­n­ised.

Most for­tu­nately, this frag­ment showed the other of the pat­tern’s two main dec­o­ra­tive mo­tifs. Com­par­i­son of the pieces from the Royal Closet and Sam­ple Book pro­duced some in­ter­est­ing re­sults. Both had not only the same di­men­sions, pat­tern lay­out and sim­i­lar crim­son ground, but also, even more in­trigu­ingly, the same nar­row buff selvedge (edge) woven with a sin­gle black or­ganzine thread and the same small quirk in the weave of the rosettes. This in­di­cated that the two pieces must have been woven by the same weaver, although not nec­es­sar­ily at the same time. The only dif­fer­ence be­tween the two sam­ples was that the yel­low in the Royal Closet’s ex­am­ple was more golden in colour and a much closer match to the tas­sel. Could this frag­ment have come from the orig­i­nal fab­ric in­stead?

Framed with it was a la­bel of the pres­ti­gious French weavers Grand Frères et Cie and a typed note sug­gest­ing that the silk was woven by them in 1911 and may have been copied in Eng­land by Sir Frank Warner in 1916—which might per­haps ex­plain how a sam­ple came to be in Warner’s archive. This note is not en­tirely cor­rect, as Grand Frères et Cie was taken over by Tassi­nari et Cha­tel in 1870. How­ever, it had long been as­sumed that the de­sign was French, although where it was woven was open to de­bate. De­signs were copied and Ge­orge IV was pur­ported to be very keen on us­ing English man­u­fac­tur­ing skills. There was also a gov­ern­ment ban on im­port­ing for­eign silks from 1765 to 1826, although the rul­ing was of­ten flouted.

A call to the ar­chiv­ist at Tassi­nari et Cha­tel, Ca­role Damour, con­firmed that there is no record of Grand Frères et Cie sup­ply­ing this de­sign to Eng­land in 1823 (or 1911), although the firm’s or­der books are in­com­plete. How­ever, she recognised the pat­tern and could sup­ply not only a ref­er­ence num­ber (1764), but also a com­plete fab­ric re­peat (with crim­son ground), a sketch with a de­scrip­tion (on a yel­low ground, Fig 6), and an or­der for the yel­low-ground ver­sion dated May 14, 1816, from Bodin Frères for ‘SA Madame La Princess Smolen­sko’—eka­te­rina Ku­tuziva, widow of Mar­shal Ku­tu­zov, who de­feated Napoleon in Rus­sia in 1812. In grat­i­tude to her hus­band, Tsar Alexan­der I paid her ex­penses and she re­ceived a good pen­sion for life; the sketch and de­scrip­tion in the archive re­fer to ‘the Em­peror of Rus­sia’. No frag­ments are known to have sur­vived from this or­der.

The Grand Frères et Cie la­bel also caused a stir. An iden­ti­cal one is stamped on another fab­ric in the French archive dated 1809. It’s not known for how long this la­bel was used, but later ones were of a dif­fer­ent style. The archive sam­ple had a dif­fer­ent selvedge from the two frag­ments in the UK and lacked the same quirk in the weave, so was prob­a­bly not by the same weaver.

The bergère chairs at Buck­ing­ham Palace had prob­a­bly been re-cov­ered by the Lon­don firm White, Al­lom & Com­pany, which had fur­nished a num­ber of the palace’s rooms in 1911. Could it have used some silk left over from the fur­nish­ing of the Sa­loon? The 1828 in­ven­tory noted, un­der ‘Silk in Stores’, ‘5 yards gera­nium and gold colour satin and a yard and ¾ same Sa­loon; 13 yards same borders cut off’. It is recorded that this silk was sent to Kens­ing­ton Palace on June 6, 1848, but its where­abouts there­after are un­known. The sur­viv­ing frag­ment has had its border cut off, fur­ther ev­i­dence of a link to the ma­te­rial recorded in the in­ven­tory.

This tan­talis­ing story shows how re­search is rarely straight­for­ward and a num­ber of ques­tions re­main unan­swered. How­ever, it seems very likely that the frag­ment in the Royal Closet has the same de­sign and colours as ‘ His Majesty’s Gera­nium and Gold Colour Silk’ and so it has been adopted as the ba­sis for the re­wo­ven silk used in the cur­rent restora­tion of the Sa­loon. When re­vealed to the pub­lic in the au­tumn of next year, it will make a spec­tac­u­lar im­pact.

Fig 1: The Sa­loon at Brighton Pav­il­ion, a wa­ter­colour painted by A. C. Pu­gin in about 1823– 4. Un­til the re­cent dis­cov­er­ies recorded in this ar­ti­cle, this was the sole vis­ual ev­i­dence for the silk used for the cur­tains, wall hang­ings and up­hol­stery

Fig 2 above: The first de­tailed ev­i­dence of the silk to be tracked down was this black-and-white neg­a­tive taken in 1966 in the archive of Warner’s of Brain­tree. Fig 3 above right: A sam­ple of silk show­ing half the pat­tern’s re­peat, in­serted in a mer­chant’s sam­ple book of 1764 in the V& A

Fig 4: A dig­i­tal im­age made by Humphries Weav­ing on the ba­sis of Figs 2 and 3, show­ing the silk’s full 47½in re­peat and 21in width

Fig 5: This frag­ment of fab­ric found on a bergère in the Royal Closet in Buck­ing­ham Palace may have come from silk or­dered for the Sa­loon, but not used

Fig 6: A con­tem­po­rary sketch of the same pat­tern, woven on a yel­low ground for the ‘The Em­peror of Rus­sia’ by the French firm Grand Frères et Cie, 1816

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