If you head down to the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, there’s a unique opportunity to see London’s largest painted ceiling up close. A major conservation project is currently underway and visitors are able to climb up 60 feet in the air on guided tours to see the work in progress.
Upon arrival for the start of our tour, we were given hard hats and high-vis vests to wear and were given an overview of the history of the building. The Painted Hall was built by Christopher Wren (the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral) between 1696 and 1704. The walls and ceilings were painted by Sir James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726.
After the introduction we ascended the 67 steps to the scaffolding platform. Once we were up close to the paintings the damage was clearly visible. The white areas you can see on the paintings are known as ‘blanching’, which occurs when varnish layers are fractured under the effects of heat and humidity.
During this project, every inch of painted surface will be carefully cleaned to restore its original colour and vibrancy. Environmental interventions and controls will also be introduced to slow any future deterioration of the paintings.
The tours last about an hour and full of interesting facts and stories about the characters depicted in the paintings. The guides also point out some quirky features of the paintings, including places where past conservators have left signatures.
Mirrors are provided so you can avoid getting a sore neck from staring up at the paintings.
- The Painted Hall Ceiling Tours are running now until end of March 2018.
- Adult tickets are £10 and you can get 50% off if you have a National Art Pass.
- I would advise pre-booking a tour online as they all filled up on the day I visited.