March 2016

Major donations, grants and gifts from funding bodies including the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Sackler Trust, The Garfield Weston Foundation, the Fidelity UK Foundation, the Foyle Foundation, Sir Siegmund Warburg's Voluntary Settlement, the Pilgrim Trust, the Headley Trust and the 29th May 1961 Charitable Trust, will enable the Old Royal Naval College (ORNC) to begin landmark conservation work on the Painted Hall and Undercroft. 

The £8m project will be the largest ever conservation of the Painted Hall, the jewel of the ORNC, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Maritime Greenwich, that was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and opened in 1694. The Painted Hall was decorated by English artist Sir James Thornhill between 1708 and 1727.

Over 3,700sqm of the painting will be cleaned and conserved over a two year programme.  As part of the project visitors to the ORNC will be given a once in a life time opportunity to get up close to the painting and see the conservation work in detail. A temporary lift will be installed to enable access to the scaffolding for public tours.   

The project also involves the installation of a state of the art lighting and a sophisticated environmental system to protect the painting for future generations and ensure no further conservation work is required for at least 100 years.

The vaulted King William Undercroft, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir Christopher Wren, will be brought back to its original form and include a new gallery, reception and café. Here visitors will learn more about the history of the Painted Hall as well as the life and work of Sir James Thornhill, the greatest English exponent of Baroque decorative painting. Thornhill was also responsible for the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, the first British artist to be knighted and became father-in-law to William Hogarth. 

Together, the conservation work and the new permanent exhibition on the Painted Hall and its artist will transform the public’s understanding of this underappreciated masterpiece. Visitors will enjoy new interpretation that will help them unlock the allegory of Thornhill’s extraordinary painting and the wider historical and architectural importance of the Painted Hall and the ORNC. 

William Palin, Conservation Director says: “The Painted Hall is one of Britain’s greatest architectural and artistic treasures, but it is too little known. Central to this project is cutting-edge conservation and the highest curatorial standards.  These will give the Painted Hall the national and international prominence it deserves, providing a transformed and enriched visitor experience and a sustainable future for this 300-year old masterpiece.”

Work is scheduled to begin in September 2016 and is due for completion in early 2019. However, the ORNC is still seeking £4m to enable it to reach its £8m target. The public can support their effort by sponsoring a Square Foot.