Prince Regent’s piano to return to Royal Pavilion

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton
The Royal Pavilion, Brighton

A piano belonging to King George IV will return to its former home at the Royal Pavilion, after being secured for £62,000 at auction.

Commissioned by George IV in 1821 for his seaside pleasure palace, the piano was made by Thomas Tomkison and is the most celebrated of Tomkison’s surviving works.

The maker’s flamboyant approach to case decoration is thought to have appealed to George’s Francophile and adventurous taste, according to The Royal Pavilion and Museums Foundation which acquired the piece.

The instrument is described as ‘an elegant, rosewood grand, and is extravagantly decorated, inlaid with brass, gilt mouldings, and gilt turnbuckles and has elegantly carved legs’.

At a cost of £236 and five shillings, the piano was well over twice the price of a standard top quality English grand piano at the time, historians have said.

Accounts reveal that Tomkison supplied other ‘extra elegant’ pianos to the Prince Regent, but no others are known to have survived.

The piano has now returned to the Pavilion SUS-171104-175206001

The piano has now returned to the Pavilion SUS-171104-175206001

The piano can be seen in the entrance hall of the Royal Pavilion in a print published in Nash’s Views of the Royal Pavilion (1826).

Commenting on the acquisition, the chair of Brighton and Hove’s economic development and culture committee Cllr Alan Robins said: “Prince Regent’s piano has long been on a wish list of desirable assets for the Royal Pavilion and so we’re thrilled to be bringing it back to its rightful home.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire it for a public collection so we’re over the moon to have secured it for the benefit of the city and our visitors.

“The piano is playable but as it’s been dormant for 20 years will need some restoration. It would be amazing to be able to hear music of the period played on it.”

A watercolour by Pugin of the piano SUS-171104-175218001

A watercolour by Pugin of the piano SUS-171104-175218001

When the Royal Pavilion was sold to Brighton, Queen Victoria stripped it of its contents which were taken to other royal palaces. When it became clear that the Pavilion was not going to be demolished, Queen Victoria started returning fixtures and fittings. This process has continued under successive monarchs.

The museum said occasionally items are acquired which have left the Royal Collection, either by gift or purchase. It is not known when the Tomkison piano left the Royal Collection, but the museum said it is possible it was sold or disposed of by Queen Victoria because there is some evidence it may have been at Windsor Castle in the 1840s.

The Royal Pavilion and Museums Foundation supported the purchase of King George IV’s only surviving grand piano at auction, using money from the Art Fund, Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, The Leche Trust and the Royal Pavilion Foundation.