June 2014 | Anne Baglin, Yeoman Guide


The cleaning of the Painted Hall’s upper hall has highlighted the vivid array of flowers painted on the west wall, hanging in decorative festoons and swags. In line with normal studio practice of the time, it is thought that James Thornhill worked with a team of specialist painters on details including the architectural features, faces of the royal family, and the flowers. Here, Yeoman Guide Anne Baglin describes her experience of researching the painted flowers in more depth.

On climbing the scaffolding for the first time I think most people were struck by the beauty of the flower paintings on the ceiling. Stephen Paine described them as of wonderful quality.

Although it is easy to identify the tulips, anemone, chrysanthemums and honeysuckle it is difficult to know which flowers by the early 18th century would have arrived in England. The rose is likely to be Rosa x centifolia meaning a rose with one hundred petals. The British called it a Cabbage Rose whereas the French dubbed it Rose des Peintres as it was so often depicted in paintings.

Two artists have been mentioned. Antoine Monnoyer (1672-1747) the son of the acclaimed flower painter Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer whose work in London included decorations in Burlington House, Kensington Palace and Hampton Court. Initial research also pointed to Jacob Bogdani who was born in Hungary, and moved to London in 1688 and became a much sought-after painter for his still life and birds. He supplied King William with paintings for his palace in Holland and the Duke of Marlborough's brother was one his main patrons which shows connections with Greenwich. Thornhill was known to possess a painting by each of the artists. However, it is likely that Bogdani was not the artist in question, as further research showed that the dates did not match.



 

Flowers in the Painted Hall © Damian Gillie Photography

With the help of Kew and the RHS my research has led me to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. They hold paintings by both artists bequeathed by Major the Hon. Henry Rogers Broughton and refer to a document written by Maurice H. Grant in 1952 titled "Flower Paintings through four centuries - the Broughton Collection." The Fitzwilliam is therefore going to be my next port of call. I am also going to pursue some more modern sources that have been recommended to me by the conservation team.