Painted Hall, Greenwich

Welcome back to the Painted Hall, Greenwich

The Painted Hall has been undergoing extensive renovation for the last 2 years so I was really looking forward to seeing this amazing place when it was unveiled.  They managed to keep the venue open to visitors during the work by offering tours on the enormous scaffolding erected to enable the painstaking cleaning and this gave visitors a once in a lifetime chance to see the ceiling really close up.  I went on one of these tours and you can read about that here.

The Hall opens to the public from 23rd March but I was given the chance to have a sneaky peek and help them test out the visitor experience.

The Painted Hall is exactly what it says, a vast hall covered with the most extraordinary paintings dating from the  early 1700s and is so impressive it is often called London’s Sistine Chapel.   For me the most important piece of information to know about the Hall is that it was built as a dining room for sick and injured sailors who had been invalided out of the navy and were living as  pensioners  in the Royal Hospital for Seamen.  When you see the place, you’ll assume it was built for the aristocracy or the royals or the very top men of the Admiralty.   The opposite is true as Queen Mary established the hospital for the ordinary sailors, commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to design the site and then James Thornhill (more on him later) was asked to create painting to fill the dining hall.  Sadly it did not remain the sailors’ dining room for too long for, as you would have predicted,  it was deemed too lovely!

The renovation took 2 years which is not surprising as there was 40,000 square feet of paintings to carefully clean and restore as well as extensive work redesigning the visitors area and opening up an underground tunnel.

The wow factor as you enter is huge and it takes a while to absorb any of the details. Your senses are stunned by the sheer volume, scale and quality of the painting and that’s before realising that the columns are not made of stone are also painted – a fabulous trompe l’oeil effect.

Painted Hall, Greenwich

The Hall took 19 years to complete so spanned 3 monarchs and Thornhill incorporated them all into his paintings,  a wise move especially as the 3rd monarch, King George came over from Germany and as the start of the new Hanoverian dynasty would need some attention.  He is in pride of place on the far wall and Thornill incorporated George’s mother who was dead by then but was the key to his line of succession, as well as George’s son to show the stable line of succession, again a careful move by Thornhill.   We also see Queen Mary and King William and her sister Queen Anne, sadly neither Queen left an heir, hence the arrival of George.  Queen Anne’s story is now more well known after the popularity of the film ‘The Favourite’.

Painted Hall, Greenwich

King William and Queen Mary in the centre of the oval at the heart of the Hall

Painted Hall, Greenwich

Queen Anne and her consort in the roundel

Painted Hall, Greenwich

King George and his family

You may have spotted a figures of on the far right of the last photo, it’s  Thornhill enjoying a bit of artistic licence by adding himself  into the painting.  He was paid by the yard – £1 per square yard for the walls and £3 for the ceilings – resulting in a full payment of nearly £7,000, although I’m sure this form of payment did not encourage him just to fill up more space!   His work incorporates royal and mythical figures, local people and important symbols of the time and 2 versions of St Paul’s Cathedral where he had painted the magnificent inner dome.  His multiple use of maritime references were there to emphasise both the purpose of the building and British naval might which was growing and had aspirations to be all powerful and over the next century was to achieve that aim. So Galleons appear in prominent positions, Neptune can be seen  as well as references to the 4 winds, the lifeblood of sailors.

Painted Hall, Greenwich

Each section of the paintings is packed full of detail and it’s well worth spending time on the benches, chairs and the many mirrors which save you getting a crick in your neck!

The windows are so beautiful, tall and elegant, framing the buildings behind them and bringing fabulous light into the Hall.

Painted Hall, Greenwich

One more look back at the Hall before I left and I still in awe….

Painted Hall, Greenwich

Leading from the Hall is a tunnel to the Chapel of St Peter and St Paul which passes a Skittle Alley, built to keep the sailors occupied and is still in use.  You can have a go at knocking down the big wooden skittles with old cannon balls which is irresistible, especially if you get a score of 9 out of 10!

Skittle Alley

There’s a shop full of great quality items and a cafe which is liable to get very busy as it’s just what you need after your visit.  There are in the newly developed entrance in the undercroft.

Painted Hall, Greenwich

We gave the Painted Hall  10 out of 10 in our feedback – except for the queue for the cafe which I’m sure they will sort out ready for opening.

For more information about visiting the Painted Hall and the rest of the historic sights in Greenwich

Full disclosure:  as a member of the London Society I was able to apply for a complementary soft launch ticket.  I would happily pay to see this wonderful venue.  We bought our own tea and cake!

Martin Parr Only Human

Martin Parr’s Only Human at the National Portrait Gallery

Martin Parr is one of our great British photographers with a career spanning over 40 years.  So I was excited to be invited to the preview of his new show, Only Human, at the National Portrait Gallery, especially as I knew Martin would be there himself.  It’s a brilliant display of his observations of Britishness in all its eccentricities and variety with particular reference to a country after Brexit referendum .

I last saw his work at the wonderful ‘The Great British Seaside’ in Greenwich alongside David Hurn, Simon Roberts and Toby Ray-Jones – have a look at that show here.   I was really  looking forward to this solo show with new  and  previously unseen work.   The exhibition is much larger than I had expected with rooms focusing on themes such as celebrity, dance, the beach, grand slam, the establishment British abroad, at the races and the BBC One idents. Martin was amused to tell us that he is now the most watched film maker in the UK due to these short films that pop up between programmes.  He hopes to make more and interest groups around the country are writing in to request him to make a film made about them.

Martin Parr Only Human Martin Parr Only Human

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National Portrait Gallery

The Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

Painted portraits or photographic portraits – is one medium better than the other for capturing a person, is there more skill in the painting or the photograph?  I was pondering these questions as I approached the National Portrait Gallery to view the annual Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.  Earlier in the  year I had enjoyed their exhibition of painted portraits and here’s my blog about it so you can compare the two: BP Portrait Award.  I had really enjoyed many of those pieces still remembered them so was slightly apprehensive that I would not be as impressed, a little unfair I know, but there it is! Continue reading

Science Gallery London

The new Science Gallery London

London has so many museums and galleries, from the world-famous ones such as British Museum and Natural History Museum, V&A and National Gallery through to fascinating smaller and niche ones such Sir John Soane’s, Denis Severs, The Fan Museum and the Museum of Brands and Packaging – and so many more…  However, we do love a new opening so we were excited to hear that after a couple of years of preparations, the Science Gallery was finally ready to visit. Continue reading

Modern Couples, Barbican

Modern Couples opens at London’s Barbican Gallery

It’s been a mammoth undertaking!  This was the introduction from Jane Alison, the co-curator of the Barbican’s new exhibition, Modern Couples, which explores how all the relationships featured in the exhibition have changed art and how society viewed these relationships.  This is not art  seen as it so often is through the lens of the single male genius but instead it opens up our thinking about what emerges from collaborations between couples and it makes a particular point of putting the women first in each couple (where there is a man/woman couple) making her the lead,  not the muse or supporter.   A refreshing viewpoint,  which feels very much in tune with our times. Continue reading

Azzedine Alaia Design Museum

Glorious dresses from Azzedine Alaia at the Design Museum

So often displays of dresses are a disappointment as the mannequins used do not do the designs justice and the dresses end up looking limp and the best idea of the real glory of the frock comes only from an old photo of a celeb wearing it. Not the case here!  These dresses by Azzedine Alaia shine and stun you as soon as you enter the room and stay with you when you leave. Continue reading

Buckingham Palace

Prince and Patron at Buckingham Palace

Each summer Buckingham Palace opens its doors to the public while the Queen is away on her holidays. You can tour the palace and see its richly decorated state rooms and extraordinary art gallery.  But there is more!  A special exhibition accompanies the opening of the rooms and as it’s Prince Charles’ s 70th birthday this year, he gets to chose his favourite pieces of art to put on display in an exhibition entitled Prince and Patron. Continue reading