My Regency website has a new look, starting with Issac Robert Cruikshank’s painting titled “Characters on the Steyne, Brighton.” Published in 1825, Cruikshank’s painting is just so Regency! The Steyne (or “Steine”) was a popular Brighton promenade that looked south toward the channel’s sea (1).
Cruikshank had an eye for detail. A two-horse carriage hastens along the beach, while a woman dressed in white sits on a donkey. I can’t decide: Is she planning to ride the donkey along the beach or is she perfectly content to sit astride its back and be lectured by a gentleman with a bulbous nose? In the foreground a boy plays with a dog, while a small creature in the lower left-hand corner — a monkey! — has stolen a gentleman’s cane. The ladies wear stylish bonnets, of course, while the gentlemen sport their tall hats. Sailboats and rowing boats dot the water under a partly cloudy sky. No seagulls sail above the beach–an odd sight surely. But no matter.
Prince George Made Brighton Popular
The popularity of Brighton during the Regency era owed its success to Prince George, the future King George IV (shown at right when he was 36 years old) (2). He first visited Brighton in 1783 and afterwards spent time there at Christmas and also during the summer. He visited Brighton often to see his not-quite-legal “wife,” Maria Fitzherbert, who had a residence there, and also to celebrate his birthday on August 12th (Erickson, 1986). Over the years the town doubled and redoubled in size, with hundreds of new houses built to accommodate the population’s growth, many displaying the Prince’s colors of blue and beige.
The Royal Suspension Chain Pier
The pier shown in the background of Cruikshank’s painting is the Royal Suspension Chain Pier built in 1823. It served as a landing stage for packet boats traveling across the channel to France, but was destroyed by a storm in 1896. Today a traveler would hop on the Channel Tunnel (a.k.a. the “Chunnel”) and travel underwater from Folkestone in Kent to Coquelles in Hauts-de-France. Interestingly, the idea of a link between the two countries was proposed as early as 1802.
John Constable’s View of the Pier
Cruikshank wasn’t the only artist interested in Brighton and its long pier. John Constable (1776-1837) became known for his English landscapes painted in the Romantic tradition. He liked painting villages and farmhouses, churches and cottages. When his wife developed symptoms of tuberculosis — an incurable disease in those days — he moved her to Brighton, hoping her health would improve in the sea air. Sadly, it did not. After five years they returned to Hampstead, where she died in 1828. Apparently, his painting of the Brighton pier was the only large canvas he painted while living there. His view of Brighton’s beach is dark and stormy and gloomy with a threatening sky, white caps tipping the waves, and debris scattered along the beach. If I had a bent for blood and gore and terrifying stories, I might have used this painting as my featured image! Well! One never knows . . .
Thanks to everybody at Slamdot Knoxville for my website’s new design! And thanks to fellow blogger Rachel Knowles for her excellent articles on King George IV and his affection for Brighton.