For over two centuries, pleasure gardens have provided an unlikely context for architectural and artistic experimentation. In eighteenth-century England, imaginative summer-houses, eye-catching pavilions, and eccentric follies provided novel--and often petit--architectural exclamations set within estate grounds and public gardens. These follies were a whimsical counterpoint to formal and naturalistic garden arrangements, and they created places of retreat, contemplation, and revelry. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert constructed such a garden cottage on the Buckingham Palace grounds in 1842 to showcase British fresco painting and to test fresco's suitability as an artistic medium for the new Palace of Westminster.


The pavilion was a quirky little structure, both inside and out. Jameson wrote that "the external appearance is picturesque and fantastic," and Jane Brown compared the pavilion's roof form to a "wizard's cap" rising over a central octagonal room. Moldings, dentals, scrollwork, battens, pediments, finials, and other lavish decorative flourishes adorned the pavilion's exterior surfaces, providing texture and relief to the facades. The interior spaces, totaling just 300 square feet, were even more lavish. Frescoes depicting Milton's Comus, scenes from Sir Walter Scott's novels, and artifacts from Pompeii covered each wall and ceiling surface of the central Octagon Room and the two rectilinear flanking galleries. The overall effect was heightened by the incorporation of elaborate ceiling details, cornices, friezes, floor designs, and bas-relief figures rendered in materials ranging from marble to paper maché.


The pavilion was a summer-house, a seasonal retreat located a short walking distance from the palace along a circuit path. Perched on a promontory known as the Mound, the pavilion overlooked the grounds, walkways, and a nearby pond. Gently curving stairs rose along two sides of an elevated terrace that formed a plinth and outdoor gathering space at the pavilion's entryway. The pavilion was a cacophony of architectural styles and artistic subject matter, and it embodied the spirit of folly architecture from this era. Follies often defied the logic, order, and stylistic dogmatism associated with grand public structures. Follies had license to be a bit odd. In fact, they were expected to be curiosities, drawing inspiration from myth, fantasy, allegory, and an array of seemingly incompatible architectural styles. Victoria's pavilion dabbled with a bewildering assortment of architectural motifs. The painter Swarbreck suggested a Swiss influence. Brown thought it "rather Bavarian in style." And Chambers's Edinburgh Journal described a "Chinese-looking building with a little platform in the front." Each of these descriptions is apt.


For a time, the Queen's pavilion was a nexus of taste-making, technical experimentation, and mythical reimagination of Victorian Britain. But another experimental garden structure soon overshadowed Victoria's quaint and eccentric pavilion. Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace heralded new forms of gallery display, large-scale exhibition culture, and the conservatory architecture that captivated Britain and the world in 1850. Eventually falling into disrepair during World War I, Victoria's pavilion was dismantled in 1928, a curious artifact of the young empire's garden culture and experiments in fashioning an artistic and architectural identity.


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