The Royal Hospital for Seamen, Greenwich: 'A Refuge for All'
|The Greenwich Hospital collection|
Museum and art gallery
The Hospital's role as a museum and art gallery originated from the decision to paint the refectory. The dining room was moved elsewhere for the duration of Thornhill’s work. Then, because the room was too small for the number of residents, the move was made permanent. Thereafter, Thornhill's Hall was only used for grand occasions.
The Painted Hall was given up to the many visitors who soon paid to see Thornhill's painting, aided by his printed description of them. This launched Greenwich as a place of cultural tourism.
'A National Gallery of Marine Paintings'
'that it should be appropriated to the service of a National Gallery of Marine Paintings, to commemorate the eminent services of the Royal Navy of England'.
Locker was a veteran of the American war. He may have been inspired to open a gallery in the
Painted Hall because the Hospital was receiving bequests of paintings from Naval officers. He also wanted to keep up public interest in the Hospital's work at the start of the French Revolutionary War.
Sources of early paintings
William Locker died in 1800 before a Naval Gallery could be created to show these and other pictures. It was his son, Edward Hawke Locker (1777-1849) who finally displayed the collection in the Painted Hall.
The Naval Gallery, 1824-1936
All the pictures were gifts or bequests.
In 1824, George IV backed and launched the scheme with a major gift of 31 portraits from the Royal Collection. These included nearly all Lely's 'Flagmen' portraits of Restoration admirals, and those that Kneller and Dahl had done for William III and Queen Anne. The Gallery opened in 1824, beating the embryo National Gallery by three weeks as the first public national historical collection!
After this, the Collection snowballed. Even before the railway reached Greenwich in 1836, it drew 50,000 visitors a year and eventually included 300 paintings.
In 1844, when Locker retired, the Hospital appointed an Honorary Curator with an annual gratuity of £100. His job was to advise on what gifts to accept and to ensure care of its Collection. The first, the marine painter Clarkson Stanfield, also oversaw repairs to the Hall itself. When he retired in 1865 similar artist-curators succeeded him up until at least as late as 1911.
The Collection remained open in the Hall (with some items in the Naval Museum) until responsibility for it passed to the National Maritime Museum after its foundation in 1934. Some pictures bought for the National Maritime Museum in its formative period also briefly hung there.
In 1936, the Collection crossed the road to this Museum but remains Hospital property. The Painted Hall was then restored to its present state.
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