Visitors have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close to the ceiling of Greenwich's Painted Hall through a series of ceiling tours until September 2018.

On Painted Hall Ceiling Tours, members of the public, led by an expert guide, can ascend 60 ft to view this vast masterpiece from up close, during a major conservation project. 

The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, described as ‘the Sistine Chapel of the UK’, is undergoing a major transformation over the next two years, including the creation of a new visitor centre, Sackler Gallery and café developed by Hugh Broughton Architects. 

The magnificent Painted Hall is the lavish centrepiece of the Old Royal Naval College, Sir Christopher Wren's riverside masterpiece. Considered to be the greatest Baroque decorative scheme in England, the walls and ceilings were painted by Sir James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726 with a series of triumphant scenes framed by trompe l’oeil architecture. The spectacular paintings are an exuberant display of British maritime power at the beginning of the eighteenth century, a story told with the help of more than 200 historical, allegorical and mythological figures. It celebrates the royal founders of the Hospital, William III and Mary II, together with successive monarchs, Anne and George I.

Over the next two years, conservators will work on 40,000 square feet of the ceiling’s painted surface, bringing new life and vibrancy to paintings obscured by decades of decay. Environmental controls will ensure no further intervention on the paintings will be necessary for 100 years. A 60 foot-high observation desk has been constructed, and through ceiling tours on the deck the public will be able to get closer to Thornhill’s work than ever before.

The Painted Hall commission catapulted Thornhill to fame and he subsequently won other important decorative commissions, including the dome of Sir Christopher Wren’s newly-completed St Paul’s Cathedral, the chapel ceiling of Queen’s College Oxford and the hall at Blenheim Palace. He was appointed history painter-in-ordinary to the George I in 1718 and sergeant-painter in 1720, the year which also saw him become the first British artist to receive a knighthood.

William Palin, Conservation Director said:

“We are delighted to offer visitors the chance to see Sir James Thornhill’s magnificent painted ceiling close-up through Painted Hall Ceiling Tours. The Painted Hall is one of Britain’s greatest architectural and artistic treasures, and this project aims to raise it to the national and international prominence it deserves. This is a wonderful chance for people to see world-class conservators at work and watch the transformation take place over the next two years.”

Alongside the conservation work, a programme of public engagement will celebrate every element of the Painted Hall and its history, promoting skills, dialogue, and independent discovery in the exploration of the universal stories and timeless themes of Sir James Thornhill’s paintings.

A major gift of £1m from The Gosling Foundation was announced in January 2017. Other grants, including £3.1m awarded from the Heritage Lottery Fund in March 2016 and support from some of the UK’s leading philanthropists, have enabled the £8.5m conservation project to begin. A further £2m is necessary to complete the project, and all donations will go towards the conservation. The Old Royal Naval College also ran a crowdfunding campaign through Art Happens in August 2016, hosted by Art Fund, raising over £22,000 to conserve the proscenium arch in the Painted Hall. The arch will be returned to its original shimmer splendour through repairing and re-gilding the original decorations.

Listings Information

Painted Hall

Daily until 2 September 2018, 10am – 5pm (last admission 4pm)

Adult ticket £10 / Child ticket (aged 6 – 17) £5

Lift access possible - please enquire at 020 8269 4799

Press Enquiries and images:

Tom Ryley


Mobile: 07711 698 186

Notes to Editors:

About the Old Royal Naval College

The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich is Sir Christopher Wren’s riverside masterpiece. This British landmark encompasses some of the finest buildings in the world, and is the must-see architectural centrepiece of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site.

Visitors can see the magnificent Painted Hall and the Neoclassical Chapel, hear the stories of the site and of those who lived and worked here, and enjoy the beautiful historic grounds.

With a bar and restaurant serving locally sourced quality British food, the Old Royal Naval College is the perfect destination for a great day out. Admission is free and all are welcome.

Established as the Royal Hospital for Seamen by King William III and Queen Mary II in 1694, the buildings of the Old Royal Naval College were designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and from 1705 provided accommodation for retired sailors, housing as many as 2,700 residents at its peak in 1814. In 1869 the site became home to the Royal Naval College, an officers’ training academy, until 1997. When the Navy left, the site was opened to the public as an extraordinary cultural destination to enlighten, enrich and delight for present and future generations.

About the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)

Thanks to National Lottery players, the Heritage Lottery Fund invests money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. @heritagelottery

About Hugh Broughton Architects

Hugh Broughton Architects was formed in 1996 and has a reputation for producing carefully crafted contemporary architecture. The practice has designed projects for many high profile clients including the British Council, Institution of Structural Engineers, National Galleries of Scotland, Royal Society of Chemistry and the TUC. The practice is best known for the design of Halley VI Antarctic Research Station designed for the British Antarctic Survey, which was officially launched in 2013 and has received fifteen international awards to date; and a purpose-built gallery for the Portland Collection, on the Welbeck Estate, Nottinghamshire, which received an RIBA East Midlands Building of the Year Award 2016 and RIBA National Award 2016, and is a finalist in the Civic Trust Awards 2017.

Art Fund and Art Happens

Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. In the past five years alone Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections.

Art Happens is the UK’s only crowdfunding platform for the museum sector, hosted by the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for art.

Art Happens’ achievements have been recognised by industry awards: in 2016 the platform won an Emcees Arts & Culture Award for Excellence in Fundraising for “Best use of digital channels in a fundraising campaign” and was also highly commended for “Most Innovative Fundraising Campaign” in the Institute of Fundraising’s National Fundraising Awards in 2015.

Find out more about Art Fund and the National Art Pass at

For further information please contact Madeline Adeane, Press Relations Manager,

[email protected] / 0207 225 4804

Find out more