Obituary: Roy Bradley

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The Independent Online
Roy Bradley, restorer and artist, born London 6 May 1913, Decorative Artist Royal Pavilion Brighton 1946-76, ), died Brighton 26 July 1992.

ROY BRADLEY was the prime executant of the brilliant and innovatory restorations of the interiors of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton that were accomplished, in the teeth of fierce political opposition in the post-war years, during the directorate of Clifford Musgrave.

Musgrave fought subtly and tenaciously; he was able, as a chief officer directly responsible to Brighton council, to argue the case for restoration (as opposed to the continued indiscriminate and damaging use of the building as a local assembly rooms) face to face with his masters - in a way that would today, after the recent absorption of the Royal Pavilion's curators into a bureaucratic mass department by Brighton council, be completely impossible.

Words, however, were immeasurably strengthened by the transformations effected by Roy Bradley before the eyes of Musgrave's adversaries. The grime of age, nicotine and smoke was gradually removed to reveal the refulgent colours of the original decorations, and the gaps caused by decay and depredations were filled by the masterly painting, carving and gilding of Bradley and his gifted assistant Derek Smith. By the time Bradley retired in 1976 a dingy, maltreated and generally scorned edifice was well on the way to becoming what is now generally recognised as the most resplendent of all British palatial interiors.

The magnitude of the task may be measured by how much still remains to be done, 46 years after Bradley became 'Decorative Artist' to the Pavilion, as the post was then known.

When I became Director of the Pavilion in 1968, I was astonished that so much had been effected with such scanty resources; when I came to know Roy Bradley, the explanation was clear. He was modest to the point of invisibility, but his personality strongly impressed itself upon all who came into contact with him. It was amusing, instructive, and touching to see how every member of the conservation team that was gradually built up around him adopted his softly spoken, judicious, and courteously dignified manner. All that he did, he did 'beautifully'. A natural scholar, meticulous in preserving what could be preserved, he brought to the task of interpretation and re-creation a formidable array of talents.

There is always a big gap in conservation and restoration work between the scientific survey of the evidence and its interpretation; for the latter task higher qualities than objective assessment are needed. That gap was bridged by Bradley's knowledge, taste and flair, coupled with a marvellous sensitivity and finesse in execution, and - most of all - with a humility before the artefact. He avoided the pitfalls both of over-restoration, and of aesthetic timidity in interpreting what had been, by any measure, pretty strong stuff. Some compromises had to be made; I remember how he regretted having had to re-create the marvellous pink and blue corridor wallpaper in oil rather than in the dry freshness of the original gouache (the walls were nightly imperilled by tombola stalls and potted palms). But where action was free, there were no compromises.

After his retirement from Brighton, he did some work at Buckingham Palace. But from the day when, to use Musgrave's words, he 'walked in out of the blue and asked for a job', and was 'excessively modest' about his abilities, the Pavilion was his life; especially after his wife's death in 1987, he visited it frequently. The Royal Pavilion, and Brighton, should remember him with gratitude.

(Photograph omitted)

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