Phase II of the Conservation of Thornhill’s Painted Hall Announced

Posted in on site by Editor on November 30, 2014


Restoration of the West Wall of the Painted Hall at Greenwich, included in Phase I of the conservation project, was completed in the spring of 2013. Phase II is expected to begin in the summer of 2016.

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Press release, via Art Daily (29 November 2014). . .

The Heritage Lottery Fund today announced that it has earmarked funding of £2.77 million, including a development grant of £98,800, to The Greenwich Foundation towards its £7m scheme to complete the conservation of the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College (ORNC). This first round pass will enable the Foundation to proceed with it plans for the conservation of the remaining 3,700 square metres of paintings: one of the most ambitious painting conservation projects ever undertaken within a historic interior. It will also support improved interpretation and accessibility, the delivery of conservation skills training, and a programme of associated community, learning and public events including scaffolding tours which proved immensely popular during Phase I of the conservation.

Created in the early 18th century by Sir James Thornhill for Sir Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital for Seamen, the spectacular, Grade 1 Listed, Painted Hall is one of Europe’s most important architectural interiors and is considered to be the greatest achievement of English Baroque art. Phase I of the conservation, which was also supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Foundation, saw the west wall and upper hall ceiling restored to their former glory [opened in May 2013]. Phase II will see the lower hall, with its spectacular ceiling, the entrance vestibule and cupola similarly restored.

Sue Bowers, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund for London, said, “This Baroque masterpiece is one of the lesser-known treasures at the heart of the Greenwich World Heritage Site. HLF funded the first stage of restoration works and we are now delighted to support plans to complete the project.”

“This is absolutely wonderful news,” adds Brendan McCarthy, Chief Executive of the Greenwich Foundation. “Ever since the first phase of conservation was completed, we’ve been looking forward to restoring the rest of the Painted Hall and the HLF stage 1 pass has taken us a long way towards that—although much fundraising remains to be done. The next few months will be very interesting and great fun. There will be changing exhibitions, information, exciting talks and hands-on workshops as part of our overall approach to involving the public as the project develops. Phase II of the Painted Hall conservation will transform the experience of visiting and viewing this remarkable painted interior, and people can also be part of the exciting project by helping us to reach our £7m target.”

The Foundation will submit detailed project proposals, based on a feasibility study by Martin Ashley Architects, to HLF at the end of 2015 with a view to starting work on the project in the summer of 2016. The Painted Hall will be under scaffolding for around two years after the start of works, however the public will have access to the Hall, including on the scaffolding itself. Visitors—including wheelchair users—will be able to get close up to the painted surfaces and watch conservators at work—an exciting element of project.

Key elements of the Phase II programme include
• Cleaning and conservation of the remaining 3,700 square metres of painted wall surface, including the great ceiling in the Lower Hall, executed by James Thornhill between 1708 and 1712. This will remove layers of dirt and varnish, unlocking the colour and vibrancy of these great paintings. The work will be undertaken by Paine & Stewart, leading specialists in the conservation of historic wall paintings who also undertook the conservation work in Phase I.
• Re-presentation of the interior with improved lighting, new seating and interpretation.
• Introduction of environmental improvements to ensure the best possible conditions for the painted surfaces.
• Creation of a new, fully accessible visitor reception in the King William Undercroft with improved facilities, innovative interpretation, dedicated retail, and a new café.
• Improved visibility of the Painted Hall within the Discover Greenwich visitor centre, including a new audio-visual exhibit.

The conservation work is expected to be completed by the summer 2018 with the overall project completed the following year.

A masterpiece that was almost 20 years in the making
With over 4,250 square metres of painted surfaces, 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 an 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, under 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 allegorical theme of the huge and exuberant Lower Hall ceiling is the Triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny, and pays due tribute to Stuart monarchs William and Mary and British maritime power. Within the oval frame are the four seasons and other references to the passing of time including the signs of the zodiac. Beyond the arch in the Upper Hall Queen Anne surveys the continents of the world, while on the west wall her Hanoverian successors, George I and his family, are shown in sober glory. Elsewhere much use is made of trompe l’oeil painting, on the columns, windowsills and in the vestibule. During the period when he working on the painting Thornhill became court Painter to the new King, George I, and was subsequently knighted. 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.

Sir James Thornhill (1675–1734)
Born in Dorset in 1675, artist James Thornhill was to rise to become a court painter and sergeant painter to George I and George II, a master of the Painters’ Company and a fellow of the Royal Society. He was the first English painter to be knighted for his work, in 1720, and sat as a Member of Parliament for 12 years from 1722 until his death in 1734. The eight scenes in the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral (1715–19) and the allegories in the Painted Hall, Royal Hospital for Seamen (1708–27), are his two most considerable commissions with the majority of his paintings largely executed on the ceilings and stairs of country houses and palaces such as Hampton Court, Blenheim, and Chatsworth. Among Thornhill’s few canvases are the altarpiece for St. Mary’s Parish Church, Weymouth, and a group portrait of the members of the House of Commons in which he was assisted by William Hogarth (who eloped with Thornhill’s daughter in 1729). Thornhill also made a number of portraits (his sitters including Sir Isaac Newton and co-founder of The Spectator Magazine, Richard Steele), book illustrations, theatre scenery, and the rose window of the north transept of Westminster Abbey. Thornhill’s works can be seen in collections across the globe including The Louvre, Paris; Metropolitan Museum, New York; and National Portrait Gallery, Tate, Royal Academy and Courtauld Institute, London.

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