November 2011

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has awarded a development grant of £29,000 to the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich for the first phase of the conservation of the Painted Hall, one of the UK’s most important architectural interiors. The money means that plans for a full HLF grant application of £364,000 for the scheme can now go ahead.

Created in the early 18th century by Sir James Thornhill for Sir Christopher Wren’s Greenwich Hospital, the spectacular Painted Hall is one of the jewels in the crown of the Old Royal Naval College. Open to the public daily, free of charge, it has contributed to the Old Royal Naval College’s popularity as a heritage visitor attraction (the ORNC was one of the country’s top 20 most popular attractions in 2010) and is a highlight of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site.

“It is almost sixty years since the last conservation work was undertaken on this baroque masterpiece,” says Sir Robert Crawford, Chair of the Trustees of the Greenwich Foundation. “When the Greenwich Foundation was established to manage the Old Royal Naval College, one of its key responsibilities was to conserve and preserve for the nation all the buildings on this internationally important heritage site. The paintings of the Painted Hall are among the largest and finest allegorical wall paintings in Britain, by Sir James Thornhill, an artist who merits wide appreciation. This project will secure the future of his greatest work for generations to come.

“We are delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has agreed to support us in the early stages of fundraising to undertake this major project.”

Sue Bowers, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund for London said: “We’re extremely pleased to give initial support for this scheme to conserve the Painted Hall, and we look forward to receiving the application for a full grant in the future."

With its 2,600 sqm of allegorical wall paintings, the Painted Hall was Thornhill’s most extensive commission, taking the artist almost 20 years to complete. In the dining hall proposed for the Royal Hospital for Seamen the artist was asked to create a homage to Britain’s maritime power and royal family. The astonishing ceiling of the Lower Hall shows the contribution the British navy made to the prosperity of the nation at the time of William III and Mary II, during whose reign the Hospital was commissioned, and the Upper Hall ceiling features the last of the Stuart monarchs, Queen Anne, during whose reign the Lower Hall paintings were made. The west wall however features Britain’s new royal family – the Hanoverians. George I is shown surrounded by his children and grandchildren. The future George II stands beside a figure personifying Naval Victory, while both Prince Frederick, father of the future George III, and the Duke of Cumberland, later to become the ‘scourge of the Jacobites’ at the Battle of Culloden, are shown as young children.

St Paul’s Cathedral looms large in the background, as a mark of respect to Wren, who had died as the painting was being completed. Thornhill himself appears in the bottom right hand corner (probably painted by one of the artist’s assistants). After completion in 1727, the Greenwich pensioners moved their dining room to the undercrofts below, and the Hall became a popular visitor attraction with an admission price of 6d. In the early 19th century the Painted Hall became the home of the National Gallery of Naval Art – one of Britain’s first public art galleries. It was not used again as a dining room until 1936, when the paintings were moved to the newly-established National Maritime Museum.

The first stage of the conservation work will focus on the west wall and is due to begin in 2012, after the London Olympics. It is expected to take around 9 months to complete and to cost in the region of £460,000.  Plaster and paint layers will be consolidated, cracks will be filled in and retouched, old water damage, paint flaking and varnish blanching will be repaired, and the surfaces will be gently cleaned throughout. The project will also offer two apprentices the opportunity to work alongside experienced conservators, as well as a number of volunteer positions. Free learning and community activities will take place throughout the project.

It is envisaged that the long-term conservation plan will be delivered in four phases and over a number of years with an estimated total cost of in excess of £2 million. Subsequent works will focus on the large ceiling painting and window reveals in the Lower Hall, the smaller ceiling painting and remaining walls in the Upper Hall, and the main entrance vestibule and cupola.

Download "HLF supports Painted Hall conservation appeal"

Find out more

Download a map of the ORNC >