Brighthelmston, Sussex is the only picture that JMW Turner is known to have painted featuring the Royal Pavilion, the summer palace for the Prince of Wales and future George IV, which had recently been completed. The Royal Pavilion with its distinctive domes has been placed in the centre of the painting with the newly constructed Royal Suspension Chain Pier on the right of the picture. Brighthelmstone or Brighthelmston, was the original name for Brighton.
The watercolour which depicts the fashionable resort and fishing town was in the collection of BG Windus and featured in the Picturesque Views of the Southern Coast of England series. It was in a private collection, unseen by the public for over 100 years, when it appeared for auction at Christie’s in New York in January 2012 and was acquired by Brighton council. The £225,000 needed for the purchase came from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund and the Royal Pavilion Museums Foundation.
Maev Kennedy writing in the Guardian about the exhibition in Brighton in 2013 to celebrate the addition of the painting to the Royal Pavilion and Museums collection noted that:
Loans from the Tate and from private collections include Turner’s preparatory sketches which show he first planned a much more conventional view from the shore with a breakwater in the foreground. He then realised he could make a more striking view from the sea from the brand new £30,000 pier, which would also be a compliment to his most aristocratic patron, Lord Egremont, a major backer of the pier project.
The Royal Suspension Chain Pier, known as the Chain Pier, was the first of Brighton’s three piers – it survived until December 1896 when it was destroyed by a storm. For travellers in the days of horse and carriage Brighton was the shortest route between London and Paris and the pier was primarily intended as a landing stage for sailing ships and later steamboats.
A description of Brighthemstone, and the adjacent country or the new guide for Ladies and Gentlemen using that Place of Health and Amusement, published by A Crawford in 1788, lists the routes taken by the stage coaches, wagons etc noting that:
From London to Paris, by way of Brighthelmstone and Dieppe, is 90 miles nearer than by way of Dover and
Calais. – The Pacquets always sail from Brighthelmstone, in the evening, about two or three hours after the
coaches arrive from London.