What started as a set-up in a few rooms above the Brighton Royal Pavilion is now a celebratory display of Brighton’s collectables over the years. Richard Owen established the Brighton museum and art gallery in 1861. The museum and art gallery are not just tourist attractions but happen to be the house of Brighton’s religious, cultural and historical values, which developed over time. That added more character to the town’s image of being a cultural and environmental powerhouse.
Brighton museum initially housed natural history specimens and artefacts collected by residents but is now a houseful collection of textiles, decorative arts, fine arts, costumes, films, toys, furniture, etc., describing the adaptive history of Brighton over time. Despite a preconceived concept of museums and their role in society, this museum is continually evolving and refashioning in response to everyday modern intrusions.
Sitting on the grounds of the royal pavilion, the site for the Brighton dome and museum was initially conceived as the royal stables and riding house for the likes of the Prince of Wales followed by King George the IV. It was a design produced by Architect William Porden and was indeed one of the earliest buildings completed in an Indian style of architecture.
Following the death of King George IV in 1830 and the nonchalance of Queen Victoria, the stables were set for deconstruction or sale. However, with the help of the Brighton council and several petitions, it was sold to the town for a large sum. The stables were then annexed as the museum and a performing arts venue. What is noteworthy is how the Brighton museum is not just another monumental structure in the town; it’s a perfect stage setting for the town’s cultural and architectural adaptability from across the world along with its development as a social but informal platform for the town population to interact.
Designed with an Indo Saracenic and gothic style of architecture, the Brighton museum and art gallery is a representation of the British show and pomp. Just like the rest of the royal pavilion complex, the Brighton museum is also designed keeping in mind different Hindu, Gothic, Mughal and Chinese elements. It displays intricately and beautifully designed arches, gateways, false arcades etc. It has beautiful minarets and onion domes topped up with lotus decorations and finials set in neutral exterior tones; which sit up as a grand landmark at the town’s centre.
The royal pavilion complex itself was a unique addition to Brighton’s existing urban grain. It was different in terms of the design approach even though it served as the King’s guesthouse and followed the design pattern and style of C.P. Cockerel’s Sezincote, which was an already existing Indo sarsanic Mughal building. This eccentric design was indeed a personification of the powerful regency, which even received a lot of criticism by being considered as kaleidoscopic, brash, intense, contradictory and hybridist in nature. This must be true for a certain tribe of people but for others, it remains one of the best examples of Eastern architectural influence on the British region. The museum saw a major refurbishment making its interiors live up to international standards of display and curation.
The Brighton museum sees a footfall of nearly 700,000 people per annum on average and has displays of world-class decor, artworks and fashion pieces. The exhibit coordination at the museum is such that it aims at creating a society friendly informal interactive space for the townspeople. They host parties, workshops, specific exhibitions etc. that makes it a unique expression of modernism and culture.
Just as its social approach is important, the museum exhibits have also played a very major role in shaping up a visual walkthrough of Brighton’s local history. On both of its floors, it hosts multiple permanent exhibits. These include natural specimens like Edward Booth’s collection of British birds, various ecological and zoological collections etc. It is also the house of decorative art collections of Britain, Africa, America, and parts of Europe, East Asia etc. The museum also has a huge fine arts collection from the 15th-20th century, which includes various sculptures, paintings, prints etc. Some notable works include artworks of Frank Stella, Larry James etc.
The Brighton museum acts as an important place of power and expression for the people. With a rich cultural and progressive history attached to it, the museum plays a vital role in creating a visual telltale of British rule and the accelerating nature of the people in Britain. The museum, by giving a platform to even topics of social stigma and oppression, has become a place of impact.
For instance, its exhibit; Queer the pier, speaks volumes about stories of the LGBTQ+ community of Brighton and gives the community a chance to place their unheard narratives on a public platform. The Brighton Museum is a fantastic example of a progressive legacy, carrying a lineage of design, culture, and history with it.