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Puffed up monarchs and black butterflies.

BY ALL accounts, George IV was one of those people everyone loves to hate.

Had he been born in the late 20th century instead of in the 18th, he would have been regularly vilified in the national tabloid press and trashier magazines.

Headlines such as 'Gorging Georgie, King of the gluttons' would have whetted readers' appetites for salacious royal gossip.

His excesses were legion and he had the extravagant tastes of a Premier League footballer who at 18 is suddenly handed pounds 80,000 a week and wants to buy as much bling as possible, drive around in a Hummer and live in a faux Tudor mansion.

George, however, had considerably more than that at his disposal and spent it on lots of refurbishing and remodelling of royal palaces as well as feasting, drinking, womanising and other generally self-indulgent activities.

He was, by modern standards, a bit of a lad.

But if it was not for George and his lavishness we would not have places such as the gorgeously lush Brighton Pavilion, one of my favourite places to visit in the soft South.

The Pavilion was his holiday home, a sort of beach hut by comparison with Buckingham Palace. Decorated in the highly fashionable Chinoiserie style with a little bit of India thrown in, it is thrillingly exotic, colourful and jaw-dropping.

It was number one on my list of places to see last week and did not disappoint, although I couldn't help but notice that someone had been messing with the interior decor.

The Pavilion is currently home to 3,000 black ceramic butterflies created by installation ceramicist Clare Twomey.

Scattered among the place settings and on the blinds in the great dining hall and in other parts of the house, the butterflies create, according to their maker, 'a veil of mourning' enabling visitors to reflect on the building's hedonistic past and inviting them to consider their own values.

They are, apparently, intended to be a critique on Gorgeous George.

The Keeper of the Royal Pavilion, David Beevers, says; "The transient beauty of the butterfly could be a metaphor for the transience of life and the vanity of earthly things."

Alternatively -and this is just my jaded view -they could be seen as just another way to waste money (I have been unable to find out how much exactly), and add nothing to the experience of visiting the Pavilion other than irritation. I couldn't help thinking that the lepidopterans are every bit as frivolously wasteful and decadent as the lifestyle of the Prince Regent, which, I suppose, means they make a point of a sort.

As it happens there's not a stately home in the land that doesn't instantly turn me into a socialist sympathiser, so I don't need to be reminded that Georgie was a greedy philanderer and spendthrift or that while he held 100-dish banquets many of his subjects lived a subsistence existence.

But I do want to be left alone to enjoy the beauty created by the talented artisans of the past, most of whom would have been ordinary people making a living from their skills. I see George's Pavilion as a triumph of the ordinary craftsman rather than a tribute to a puffed up monarch, and I came to that conclusion all on my own. No butterflies needed.

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* BLACK BEAUTIES: Butterflies by Clare Twomey at the Brighton Pavilion
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Aug 14, 2010
Words:564
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