The Robert Jones Wall Decoration
The Robert Jones Wall Decoration


The silver wall decoration, not a fragment was known to survive, until a flashlight shone behind the side of an architrave showed a little glint of silver. And this was sufficiently interesting for the architrave to be removed, and there, behind, was the original silver and pearl-white wall decoration, very much blackened with tarnishing. We were fortunate there were some little silver elements visible. And at last, here was the design of Robert Jones from the 1823 scheme. The Robert Jones design that was discovered was, as I say, silver on a so-called pearl white ground. The motif was a small arch shape, within which was a flower, and it was evident that it also had a shadow colour around it, suggesting that it was meant to have a slightly trompe-l’oeil 3 dimensional effect. The actual motif itself is very similar to one that appears in three dimensions on the ceiling cove of the banqueting room, and while that was also a Robert Jones scheme, the plasterwork which this motif was part of in the Banqueting Room would have been the architect John Nash’s design. So Jones was drawing from an existing element of the design by John Nash. And that’s quite an interesting distinction in any interior in the Pavilion, as to how much one is looking at the work of the architect John Nash, and how much one is looking at the work of the designer: either Robert Jones; or the other great designer of the Pavilion interiors, Frederick Crace. It seems that the Pavilion is actually unusual, and possibly rather groundbreaking in the sense that the responsibilities given to the decorators were very broad, and John Nash’s – the architect’s – input was rather less than might be expected at the time, or certainly in a generation or so earlier. And Robert Jones himself is mentioned in the accounts of other suppliers of furnishings to the Pavilion as the designer of the work that they are involved in. So the chimneypiece by Westmackott, the furniture supplied by Bailey & Saunders, and other elements are- there’s always this little suffix which says ‘to Mr Jones’s design’. So he wasn’t just giving form to the idea of the architect, he was very much there at the creative heart of the job. And his drawings show that. His drawings are almost expressionistic and free designs. You can see his thought processes. He’s not simply carefully drawing out what he’s been instructed to do by someone else. When the silver leaf decoration on the walls was discovered, it fell to Ann Sowden to work up a scheme for reconstructing the decoration on the walls. And the fragments we found were relatively small. It was hard to envisage exactly how this would have been planned out across the walls, particularly as Jones’s own accounts say that each element was individually shaped and sized to fit in to the various ‘situations’, as he put it, on the wall. That is to say, he wanted the decoration to come to a natural edge where it met a frame, and so forth. So it couldn’t be printed, which would be the obvious way to do a repeat decoration paper. There were still aspects of it which are slightly mysterious. There are some areas which look as if they might have been worked using a stencil; even others which look almost as if they might have been printed. But the best-preserved areas were obviously done by hand. So it was a hand process directly on the wall originally, we believe. And Ann very carefully plotted out how this would have worked across the walls of the room, and once the ground colour and the ground paper had been put on the wall, she had to literally draw every one, very finely in pencil, on a kind of grid that relied on laser devices and plum lines so that there would be no waviness in the scheme. And it took months as you can imagine. There are around 12000 motifs, and they all had to be placed in exactly the right position. And there was no- as I say, there were inconsistencies built into Jones’s original plan which she had to bear in mind. And then they had to be recreated. One knew the originals were in silver leaf, but one also knew from other fragments that were discovered that that bright silver finish didn’t last very long. Silver tarnishes very readily. And there is evidence that the whole scheme was done again within the period of royal occupancy – a few decades. It might be okay when the client is the King to say ‘right let’s do it again, it’s tarnished a bit’; today we wouldn’t really be able to get away with that, saying ‘okay we’ve got to do the whole room again in 15 years’ time’. So the difficult decision was made to choose a metal leaf that wouldn’t tarnish, and platinum was chosen, because platinum doesn’t tarnish. It’s worth recording that the decision to use platinum wasn’t lightly taken. Platinum is famously the most expensive metal around, and it’s worth recording that Ann Sowden acquired this platinum when platinum shares were low, and she used a factor, who bought enough platinum at a time when the cost of platinum had dipped. We could not, I think, possibly afford it today. So again it was one of these extraordinarily fortuitous things that made this project so enjoyable, as well as rather challenging as well.

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