The murals in the Music Room of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton were created between 1818 and 1821 for the Prince Regent, later King George IV. The wall decoration of the room, one of many extravagant chinoiserie interiors in the Pavilion, is comprised of twelve landscapes in crimson, yellow and gold, surrounded by trompe l’oeil columns, serpents and dragons, above a dado ‘wall’. Although their composition is essentially European and the subject matter derives partly from topographical illustrations of the Orient by English artists, the effect in all but scale is of oriental lacquer-work. The paintings present a Romantic vision of China, dreamlike and languorous. Of the completed scheme, Edward Brayley wrote: “No verbal description, however elaborate, can convey to the mind or imagination of the reader an appropriate idea of the magnificence of of this apartment…”
The murals are attributed to Lambelet, an artist documented in a few mainly journalistic records and a single reference in the papers of the Crace decorating firm, which had overall responsibility for the Music Room scheme. There is no evidence of work by him prior to the Pavilion murals, though it must have existed, nor is any subsequent work known to survive elsewhere. The Crace account refers to Mr Lamberlet (sic) being paid £453 in 1818, with a Mr Fox1 receiving £116. The most detailed single account of his work is a court report in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper of Sunday 29th April 18552. It was written towards the end of his life, some 35 years after the creation of the murals.
“AN ARTIST’S SUFFERINGS.
“A case of peculiar distress was a few days ago brought under the notice of Mr Corrie, at the Clerkenwell police-court – the detail of the sufferings of an artist, once favoured by royalty, when the “most accomplished gentleman in Europe” selected his artists from the best of the day – excited much sympathy amongst those that heard it. From the statement of the gentleman who introduced the poor paralysed artist to the court, it appeared that at one time Mr Lambelet (the applicant) had been in affluent circumstances, and so high were his artistic qualities in painting held, that George IV encouraged him to paint the panels and perform other decorative works in the various suites of apartments at the royal pavilion in Brighton. The excellence of the works, which were wholly composed of crimson and gold japan paintings, representing Chinese scenery, from examples in the immediate neighbourhood of Pekin, excited so much admiration that the Marquis of Hertford, and others of that most fashionable period, gave him their patronage. In the subsequent reign of William IV the patronage continued, but not to such an extent, and then it decreased yearly, until 1850, when the sale of the “royal property”, at Brighton, induced the purchasers, the commissioners of the town, to call in the aid of Mr Lambelet, to effect the restoration of the beautiful interior of the building. So satisfactory were the artist’s labours considered, that the Brighton Gazette of 23rd January, 1851, in describing the suite of rooms on the occasion of the first grand ball given there, said “Mr Lambelet, the original painter of the panelling, has so far carried the Chinese scenery in his mind’s eye, that he has, to a great extent, succeeded in imitating it”. After that period incipient paralysis set in, which, about a year and a half since, assumed the full extent of its ravage, and now he is nearly incapacitated from doing anything for subsistence; indeed, when found out, residing in a back garret at No. 6, Northumberland-place, Bagnigge-wells-road, he was in the most extreme distress, and without the common necessaries of life; to aggravate his miseries his poor wife died about a twelvemonth since, broken-hearted at seeing her husband reduced to such an abject condition. The careworn appearance of the poor gentleman so excited the sympathy of Mr. Corrie that he ordered some immediate relief and nourishment from the poor-box; at the same time directing that inquiries should be made as to the truth of the story from the numerous respectable parties named by the applicant, to whom he did not wish to apply in his need. Indeed it was only after the strong persuasion that he was induced to present himself before the magistrate. -Mr. Mould, the chief clerk, who himself humanely undertook the investigation, now said that he had made strict inquiries amongst the names handed in, one of the gentlemen being personally known to himself; all of them spoke of Mr Lambelet in the highest terms of praise, and expressed a willingness to subscribe towards his relief. – Mr Corrie: I think this is a case worthy of the attention of the human and benevolent, and one that exhibits the uncertainty of position in life, when it is to be maintained by the mental or physical exertions of those who live by such faculties. I will willingly give a certain sum for the relief of the applicant; at the same time hoping that it will excite the sympathy of others.”
The Music Room murals, part of Frederick Crace’s scheme for the room, would have been painted sometime between early 1818, when Crace and artist/designer Robert Jones had the Pavilion decorations apportioned between them, and 1821 when the completed wall decorations were in place3. They were painted in oil colours on fine linen canvas and hung in position by being stretched across the wall; i.e. fixed at the edges rather than being adhered across their entire area. Such edge-fixing allowed their removal immediately prior to the sale of the Pavilion by Queen Victoria to the town of Brighton in 1850. Many elements of the building’s interiors were incorporated into rooms at Buckingham Palace but Lambelet’s murals, not being required for re-use in any other royal residence, were returned by the Crown to Brighton in 1864 (at the request of Pavilion custodian Francis de Val) where they were re-installed in the Music Room. This time the canvas was stuck directly to the plaster.
The designs included details from topographical illustrations, namely Views of China, published a few years earlier by William Alexander who had accompanied Lord Macartney’s embassy of 1792-4 to the court of the Emperor Qianlong. The manner of the murals’ physical creation is known in part from the Crace accounts but otherwise only through anecdotes. Henry Roberts, in the 1939 guide to the Pavilion, writes:
“It is said that Lambelet spent two whole years on the decoration of this room for George IV. At one time Robert Jones was employed with Lambelet in the Music Room, but King George IV told Mr Crace they were too clever to work together, so Lambelet was left in the Music Room, while Jones undertook the completion of the Banqueting Room”.
It is known that the murals were painted to some extent off-site, as the Crace accounts mention the hire of a ‘Ware Room’ to accommodate the work and a cost for transporting the rolled-up paintings by ‘caravan’ to Brighton. But some of the painting at least seems to have been carried out in situ (though one imagines that must have caused conflicts with other work going on in the room); an incident described in ‘Belgravia; a London Magazine’ in 18834 says of the Music Room decoration:
“The beautiful pheasants on the rock to the right of the superb painting which adorns the south wall of this room were an after-thought to the original design. The Prince of Wales, with a distinguished party, was one day inspecting the room, and, while Lambelet was engaged on the above painting, the Prince remarked to him, on passing, that the rock looked somewhat naked. On his Royal Highness’s return, the artist had sketched in the pheasants, his skill and good taste evoking the highest compliment from the Prince.”
(There are, indeed, two pheasants now standing on a rock in that position.)
The ground colour of the murals consists of a carmine glaze over a vermilion ground, ‘highly varnished and polished’, the texture (when first painted) contrasting with the more flat yellow areas – a variety of sheen now all but lost largely through re-varnishing in the Victorian era. For a discussion of the original effect see Janet Brough’s paper The significance of sheen: surface finish as an important aspect of early nineteenth-century interiors.5
Recent genealogical research has shed light on Lambelet’s origins, if not on his career. To be entrusted with the Music Room decoration he must have proved himself somewhere, but no earlier work is known. The possibility that he was a scenic artist might explain both his confidence in working on a grand scale and the failure of any earlier work to survive, but his name hasn’t been found in theatre records of the period.
He is sometimes described, mistakenly it would seem, as French: Lambelet is certainly a French name, and many Lambelets originate in the francophone area of Switzerland around Neuchâtel. The name can also have British origins, as a diminutive of Lamb, on the same pattern as Hewlett (from Hugh); but in so far as the two origins can be distinguished, the English formation is less common. Regardless of his forebears, it can be said with some confidence that Lambelet was English by birth. A Henry Lambelet was born on 17th April 1781 and baptised at Sunbury-on-Thames on 9th May6. (Sunbury, incidentally, had a sizeable French Huguenot community at that time.) His parents were John Lambelet and Sarah (née Starbuck) who had married at St George’s, Hanover Square in 1772. On 22nd November 1804 Henry married Louisa Scrape at St. Mary’s, Marylebone. A daughter, also named Louisa, was born in 1805, followed by a son, Henry Jeffrey (or Geoffrey) Lambelet, in 1810. This son would go on to become an ‘ornamental painter’ himself and, to further complicate matters Henry Jeffrey Lambelet had a son also named Henry, also an artist7. The unusual surname, the accord between the date of birth and age at death (see below), and the trade of his progeny make it very probable that the Lambelet born in Sunbury is the Pavilion artist.
In line with the belief that Henry Lambelet was French his name today is usually pronounced in a French manner with a silent ‘t’. However, it seems that at least some of his contemporaries combined an anglicised pronunciation of the name with an elaborated ‘French’ spelling. So, he is referred to as Lambelette in the Brighton Herald of 21st December 1850, when he had returned to the Pavilion to take part in the municipal restorations that followed the purchase of the Pavilion by the town. Some years after his death, the History Of Brighton And Environs From The Earliest Known Period To The Present Time, by Alderman Henry Martin, published in 1871, said that: “Lambelette and several celebrated Italian painters resided for years in Brighton engaged in the decoration of the Pavilion”8. This spelling may be sufficient to identify the Pavilion’s Lambelet with a decorative artist referred to either as Lambelette or, in the following reference, Lambalette. According to the Gentleman’s Magazine of 18349, he worked on the redecoration of the Pantheon in Oxford Street in that year10. The scheme is described:
“The square pillars…, and the soffits of the arches, contain Arabesque paintings, beautifully executed on panels of canvas; they consist of scrolls, flowers, fruit, and birds, painted in the most vivid colours, on a pure white ground, from designs by Mr. Charles James Richardson, architect, a pupil of Sir John Soane, and executed by Lambalette, Blakie, Jones, &c, under the superintendence of Mr. Watson of Hanway Street. This portion of the embellishments, resembling the loggias of the Vatican, will form, if we mistake not, a new era in the embellishment of public buildings in England. The paintings are in oil, and not in fresco, or distemper: the few attempts at the latter, hitherto made in this country, having, from the dampness of our atmosphere, either partially or wholly failed. The greater part of these arabesques are not mere decorations in the flimsy style of scene-painting; but very superior works of art, and the general effect is highly picturesque and lively.”
Whether the Jones mentioned above is the Pavilion artist Robert Jones has not been established, and of Blakie nothing more is known. The architect Richardson was not the only one mentioned in the article who had links to Soane: William Watson of Hanway Street worked frequently for Soane as glazier, painter and gilder11. Frederick Crace, too, had worked for Soane; Lambelet and Jones worked with Crace; so research in this area may be worthwhile.
In 1837 one Lambelette was appointed to a teaching post at the newly established Government School of Design, based in Somerset House12 under the Directorship of J Papworth. Lambelette is described variously as Head Master, Principal Drawing Master and Head of the Morning School. Whatever his title, he and his colleagues are said to be the first teachers in Britain to be salaried out of public funds. In at least one reference to him in this capacity his name is spelt Lambelet13.
By the time Queen Victoria sold the Pavilion to the town of Brighton in 1850 almost all its interior decorations had been removed. In the programme of restoration that was put into immediate effect by the municipal authorities Lambelet, now in his late 60s, played an important part. But just before this in 1848 according to an anecdote in ‘Spearing’s Recollections & Rough Sketches of parts of old Brighton’14, one Henry Thomas Spearing assisted ‘Lambelette and Crace’ with decorative work in the Banqueting Room and Music Room. This may simply be an error in date, as Lambelet was certainly working at the Pavilion two years later, after ownership had been transferred to the town. The reference to the Crace firm working at the Pavilion at this exact time isn’t, as far as we know, supported by other evidence. Perhaps the anecdote is correct, and Crace & Lambelet were helping to dismantle decorations prior to the sale.
More reliable are the references to Lambelet working at the Pavilion in 1850. The municipal restorations were supervised by Christopher Wren Vick, a Brighton decorative artist who had worked at the Pavilion from 1835 onwards while it was still in royal occupancy15. Several reports of the Pavilion’s re-opening in 185116 describe these works and Lambelet’s involvement in them with approval. His re-creation of the Music Room murals is said to have been very similar to the earlier work, apart from its lack of gilded highlights17.
As Lloyds Weekly Newspaper tells us, within a few years of the completion of this work Lambelet was found destitute and paralysed in a Somers Town garret. Despite the kindness of Mr Corrie and those ‘human and benevolent’ people who answered his plea to assist the stricken artist, it was in Islington workhouse, Liverpool Street, on 27th January 1860, that the death from ‘Paralysis, Asthenia’ was recorded of ‘Henry Lamblett, Artist in Figures’, aged 78.
1 Edward Fox may have painted the Chinese figures in the murals – a belief based on Fox’s extant tracings of figures from another of William Alexander‘s publications, Costume of China – figures that were used as patterns for some of those in the Music Room murals. Edward Fox, 1791-1875, exhibited at the RA from 1813, when his address was 1 Emlyn Buildings, Oxford St. Later (from 1823) his address is given as Brighton Place, Brighton, then (in 1846) 44 Market St., Brighton. His last RA entry was 1851. From The Royal Academy of Arts; a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904. by Algernon Graves. See also Decorative painting in England 1537-1837 vol 2, the 18th & early 19th centuries’. p.227. Ed. E. Croft-Murray.
An artist named Cash is also linked to the work (by Brighton historian John George Bishop, 1825 – 1911), but his identity is uncertain. One G Cash exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1807 ‘A sketch from nature’. From The Royal Academy of Arts; a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904. by Algernon Graves. But a more likely candidate may be one Stephen Cash, a Brighton-based painter and decorator. He is found in 1833 at 37 Duke Street, Brighton, occupation painter, born in either Wilsborough or Woodhurst, Kent c. 1794. So, he would have been in his early twenties when the Music Room work began.
2 Issue 649
3 Brighton Gazette 1st Nov. 1821
“….the return of his Majesty in about three weeks….Mr Jones, the chief artist of the Palace, came down on Tuesday – the splendid paintings prepared on canvass, are to be attached to the walls of the grand saloon* without delay: the other decorations of the magnificent apartment are nearly completed. The dining & music rooms are still more forward – the carpet has been laid down in one and, in a day or so, the other will be finished. “
*A rather confused account, as the Saloon didn’t have decorations that could be so described, although the Music Room and Banqueting Room did.
5 The Conservation of Decorative Arts, edited by Velson Horie, Archetype Publishing & UKIC London 1999. ISBN: 1-8731-32077
6 This confidence is based on the combination of an unusual name and the fact that the date of birth accords with Lambelet’s age at death.
7 The background of Lambelet’s father, John, is not known with certainty. Of the two John Lambelets recorded at around the right time one was a former French army officer who from 1780 ran a military academy in the Fulham Road with a Belgian emigré, Louis Lochee; the other was a confectioner in Wigmore Street, London. One assumes it was the sons of this confectioner, John and (possibly ‘our’) Henry, whose partnership (as confectioners in Wigmore Street) was dissolved in 1807. The Crace firm also was based in Wigmore Street.
8 p44. Italian decorators are mentioned in another source relating to this period of decoration: in January 1820 the Morning Post says: “The grand Chinese apartment at the Pavilion is under the tasteful direction of one of the first Italian artists. The walls have a back ground of burnished gold, on which figures are painting.” Presumably either the Banqueting Room or Music Room is being referred to although, technically, neither could be said to have such a background. It is known that Italian artists, including Biagio Rebecca, worked in the ‘Marine Pavilion’ (as the building was known prior to John Nash’s remodelling), so this may simply be a journalist’s error.
10 The article also states “These ornaments have been modelled and executed in the improved papier maché by Mr Charles F Bielefeld of the New Road”.
11 “Many of Soane’s mirrors were supplied by William Watson, who was Soane’s regular painter and glazier from about 1806 – like many suppliers of that era he was much more than a mere contractor, frequently bidding on Soane’s behalf at auctions and acquiring 16th and 17th Century glass for his windows as well as modern coloured, sheet, silvered (e.g. mirrored) and plate glass.” ‘London in the Soane’ – Sir John Soane’s Museum Education.
12 “The schools for the people : containing the history, development and present working of each description of English school for the industrial and poorer classes”. 1871.
Author: Bartley, George C. T. , Sir.
“…This was accomplished by the opening of the Government School of Design at Somerset House on June I, 1837, the number of pupils being twelve. Staff-Payments on Results.- The staff of the School, was as follows:
Mr. Papworth, Director, with a salary of 2 sol. to 500/.;
Mr. Papworth, junior, Secretary and Librarian, ,with a salary of £70., and £20. more to come from fees;
Mr. Lambelette, Principal Drawing Master, with a fixed salary of 1 sol., and sol. to be derived from a share in the fees from students;
Mr. Spratt, Second Drawing Master, with a salary of £125., and £25 from fees;
Mr. James Leigh, Modeller, at a salary of £70. It will be remarked that the teachers at the commencement were to depend, to a certain extent, on the fees realised to the School by their teaching. This was, however, changed as early as 1838, as stated in the minutes: that, in order to simplify the accounts of the School, it is desirable to pay fixed salaries to Professors and Teachers, and no longer to leave any portion of them dependent upon the fees paid by the students.’“
From: “Arts & Crafts Magazine Vol 1-2”, by Hutchinson & Company.
Our Earliest State School Of Design
The death of Mr. Le Jeune, A.R.A., recalls the beginning of our State Schools of Design, for he was one of the staff of the first of them. The Government School of Design in Ornamental Art, it was called. It was opened in June, 1837, under a Council appointed by the Board of Trade, which included among its members A. W. Calcott, R.A„ Sir Francis Chantrey. R.A., and C. L. Eastlake, R.A. The first director was J. B. Papworth, whose staff included: Lambalette, head master; Spratt, assistant-master; James Leigh, modeller; Papworth, jun., secretary and librarian. Le Jeune was appointed (in 1841) “Master of the morning classes for drawing and painting,” and Alfred Stevens was one of his colleagues.
(Incidentally, in 1845 Charles James Richardson, architect at Oxford Street Pantheon in 1835 – see above – began teaching ornamental and geometric drawing as Master of the Architectural Class of the School of Design.)
13 “John B. Papworth: a record of his life and works” – p109 by Wyatt Angelicus Van S. Papworth – 1879
“… Books, and patterns for studies and examples were left to him, as also the
selection of the Teachers, who were Mr. Lambelet and Mr. Spratt,…“
14 Rare Books, Jubilee Library, Brighton. SB9, SB3; Spearing’s family recollections of the Town in the 1800s. Also annotated thumb-nail drawings – included is a plan of Pavilion grounds/ King’s Apartments 1803 – and several pages of printed ephemera & prints of Brighton. Bound volume.
15 Lord Chamberlain’s Papers, the National Archives, & a Pavilion annual abstract of accounts.
16 Perhaps most comprehensive is the pamphlet: ‘A descriptive guide to the Palace and gardens of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton. New edition, 1851’. Charles Wilmott.
17 Brighton Herald, 21st December 1851. The replacement murals may have been painted on paper, traces of paper having been found beneath a dado area during repairs. It is assumed that the replacements were destroyed during preparations for the re-hanging of the original canvas.
‘Lambelette’ is also reported as working on the redecoration of Long Gallery at this time. Fragments of that scheme are in the Pavilion archives.
a) It is likely that the Pavilion artist can be identified as the ‘H Lambelet’ who entered the Royal Academy Schools on 5th November 1801.
b) An 1826 watercolour drawing of one of the Music Room panels survives in Brighton Museum. It is signed by Francis Arundale, one of the team of artists who contributed to the Pictorial Inventory (compiled under the supervision of Nicholas Morel), part of the comprehensive inventories being prepared for royal residences at that time.
c) In October 1810 one James Martin, paper-stainer of 20 Oxford Street, insured a property at Grafton Street East, Somers Town, which was occupied by one ‘Lamblett’. (Sun Fire records, held at the National Archives.) Martin also had property in Hanway Street (see reference to Oxford Street Pantheon, above). This Lamblett was, it seems, Henry Lambelet: an advertisment in the Morning Post of 18th June 1811 offered the leasehold on “a substantial well built leasehold house, No 21 in Grafton-Street East, Tottenham Court Road, containing two neatly finished rooms on each floor with convenient offices, in the occupation of Henry Lambelet Esq, who quits at midsummer….”.
d) Lambelet’s destitution, with a son living nearby, may suggest filial disregard, but perhaps Henry junior was not in a position to offer much assistance; the work of his immediate neighbours in the census of 1861 – labourer, charwoman and wet-nurse – imply he was not a wealthy man.
e) The definitive account of the Crace firm of decorators is Megan Aldrich’s The Craces: Royal Decorators, 1768 – 1899. John Murray Publishers Ltd, 1990.
f) Of the twelve mural paintings in the Music Room eleven are original (with some later repairs) and one, a narrow panel on a return to the window, is a late 20thC copy by Mr Derek Smith. The original of this panel was destroyed in an arson attack in 1975. The painting on the north wall, though divided into two parts by the organ screen, has been counted as a single panel, as the framing suggests it should be.
Gordon Grant & Lavender Jones. 2013.
If you have any questions or observations and would like a reply, please go to the Contact page.