The Painted Hall is essentially London’s own palace of art.
There are already loads of lovely reasons to visit Greenwich, and another one has just emerged. The Painted Hall, in the heart of Greenwich’s historic Old Royal Naval College, has undergone a huge renovation these past two years to undo decay and preserve the breathtaking artwork – and on March 23rd, the hall will finally reopen to the public.
As the pictures reveal, The Painted Hall is a jaw-dropping venue. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the baroque style, although that apparently wasn’t quite fancy enough – so artist Sir James Thornhill was brought in to give it a lick of paint. The space is often referred to as the ‘Sistine Chapel of the UK’, and it’s not hard to see why.
Royal figures, grand scenes, nautical references, and fascinating details are rendered in glorious colour across the ceiling and walls. You can spot at least five English monarchs depicted in The Painted Hall, often trampling Britain’s enemies or receiving blessings from heaven, as one does on a standard Tuesday.
The original work was a painstaking affair, begun by Thornhill in 1707 and taking nineteen years to finish. Renovation works, mercifully, have been a much speedier business. With £8.5 million pumped in to the project, and specialist supervisors overseeing works, the stunning paintings have been rejuvenated. A state-of-the-art LED illumination system further helps to bring out the best of the artwork.
The Painted Hall is once again a marvellous spot for a wander, but there’s no need to stay on your feet. Intricately carved oak benches, which were originally made in the 19th century (during the hall’s tenure as an art gallery), are being returned to the venue for the first time in 100 years. You’re invited to lie down on them and take in the grandeur of the ceiling from a comfier position, reportedly as Horatio Nelson used to do.
Also emerging from refurbishment is The King William Undercroft, which sits beneath The Painted Hall and is equally swagnacious. This rather grand space has had modern additions stripped away to restore the original look – although certain mod cons, like a shop, cafe, and gallery, still remain. Stunning art, and scones to hand? It’s the best of both worlds!
Location: Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, SE10 9NN. Nearest station is Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich. See it on Google Maps.
Opening hours: 10am-5pm, seven days a week.
Price: adult tickets are £12, students and concessions are £8.50, under 16s go free – if you buy a ticket, hold onto it, because it also nets you unlimited re-entry for a year after purchase. They’ve also got a neat ‘pay as you wish’ scheme on the first Wednesday of every month.
More information: from their website.
Featured image: James Brittain Photography
Also published on Medium.