Queen's House: Behind the scenes as England's first classical building gets ready to reopen

By Sophie Beckwith | 18 February 2016

Orazio Gentileschi’s Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, originally commissioned by Charles I almost 400 years ago, and ceiling designs by 2009 Turner Prize winner Richard Wright will be among the highlights when the Queen's House reopens at the National Maritime Museum this summer. Sophie Beckwith takes a peek

A photo of a conservator tending to a painting at Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
The Great Hall at Queen's House© NMM
A royal overhaul is underway at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. Ahead of a grand reopening for its 400th anniversary celebrations, the work of designing a new ceiling for its Great Hall has been entrusted to the expert hands of award-winning artist Richard Wright.

A photo of a conservator tending to a painting at Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
Conservation work on early 18th centruy delftware tiles© NMM
The renovations to one of the most important buildings in British architectural history will feature Wright’s new ceiling artwork, which has been inspired by the House’s famous Tulip Stairs.

A photo of the inside of a room at Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
The Presence Chamber© NMM
The ceiling, along with a newly-refurbished Queen’s and King’s Presence Chambers, will go on public view when the 17th century House re-opens in July 2016, accompanied by more than 450 artworks including paintings, mirrors and sculptures.

A photo of a blue stairway at Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
The South Stairs© NMM
The former royal residence’s Great Hall had an original ceiling comprising nine paintings, gifted to the Duchess of Marlborough in 1708 and installed in Marlborough House in London, where they still reside today.

A photo of a view over a green at Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
The Loggia© NMM
Wright’s new ceiling design will be entirely in gold leaf and crafted to fill the nine blank panels and upper part of the walls.

A photo of an ornate ceiling at Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
The ceiling in the Prescence Chamber© NMM
The first artist to work on the ceiling for more than 350 years - Orazio Gentileschi completed his since removed masterpiece here in 1639 – Wright will work in the same manner as Renaissance and Baroque fresco-masters.

A photo of a conservator tending to a painting at Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
Conservator Elizabeth Hamiton-Eddy working on the Flagmen of Lowestoft Vice-Admiral Sir William Berkeley© NMM
“This building deserves and demands to be restored,” says Queen’s House curator Christine Riding, who is addressing the many complications that come with returning such a historic building to its former glory.

A photo of the outside of Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
© NMM
“Richard Wright is about a 21st century completion of the Great Hall. He’s our first artist since 1639, so we’ve been some time in the waiting.”

A photo of the decadent inside of Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
The Great Hall© NMM
The sweeping Tulip Stairs were an original feature of the Queen’s House and one of Britain’s first geometric self-supporting spiral staircases. Part of the extensive restoration work also includes re-painting this wrought iron structure in a colour called smalt.

A photo of scaffolding inside Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
Scaffolding reaching through the Great Hall© NMM
Smalt was a rich blue colour originally achieved by crushing blue glass containing cobalt pigments, common between the 15th and 18th centuries and giving a uniquely soft finish to surfaces.

A photo of a conservator tending to a painting at Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
Conservator Sarah Maisey working on the Flagmen of Lowestoft Sir Jeremiah Smith© NMM
The Queen’s Presence Chamber will have a vibrant new wall colour. Red was a very royal colour in the 17th century and bronze red and theatre red are the two shades currently being trialled.

A photo of conservator tending to paintings at Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
The conservation team working on the Flagmen portraits in the studio© NMM
The chamber’s ceiling was restored in 2013, so to complete the room all that is needed is a Daniel Mytens (1590-1647) painting of the formidable Anne of Denmark on a hunting expedition, on loan from Hampton Court Palace.

A photo of a staircase at Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
The Tulip Stairs© NMM
The fireplace in the King’s Presence Chamber is being reinstated and a bold mazarine blue paint has been shortlisted for the walls. Extensive work is being carried out to restore the ceiling and the whole room will be dusted with a rich amount of art.

A photo of a gallery inside Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
The West Bridge room© NMM
The centrepiece of this will be Orazio Gentileschi’s Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, part of the Royal Collection going on display in the house for the first time since 1650.

A photo of the decadent inside of Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
The Orangery© NMM
“We want this to be a social space and an art gallery,” says Riding. “The ethos of the House is that people are not visitors to it they are guests. That is why the House is where it is.”

A photo of a gallery inside Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
The Central Bridge Room© NMM
In the central bridge room, where the public would have walked below hundreds of years ago, along the main Deptford to Woolwich road, tones of grey will be used to give it a fresh and contemporary feel. The walls will be adorned with paintings from one of the greatest collections of Dutch seascapes outside Holland, alongside beautiful tulip vases and Delftware.

An old photo of the outside of Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
The opening of the House in 1937© NMM
The Queen’s House is famous for its amazing art collection including works by Gainsborough, Hogarth and the van de Veldes. The most recent renovations befit Greenwich’s royal connections and the lasting effect art and architecture have had on this beautiful House.

  • The public can still explore the gardens and outside of the Queen’s House while restorations take place. Visit rmg.co.uk/queens-house and follow the progress on Twitter @TQHGreenwich.

The history of Queen’s House

A photo of the outside of Queen's House at the National Maritime Museum in London
The House at night© NMM
  • Renowned architect Inigo Jones was commissioned to design the Queen’s House Greenwich by King James I’s wife, Anne of Denmark, in 1616. It is one of his earliest surviving works and the first truly Classical building in England.

  • Jones was inspired by the great Italian architect Andrea Palladio, bringing the ideas over to England, Jones began a new style here by creating symmetrical, proportioned buildings known as ‘Palladian’.

  • The House was said to be a gift from the king to Anne to apologise for swearing in front of her after she accidentally killed one of his favourite dogs during a hunt. She never lived to see the completion of the Classical design, dying in 1619.

  • James’s son, Charles I, gave Greenwich to his wife Henrietta Maria. Work on it resumed and it was finally completed around 1636. Queen Henrietta Maria went on to fill the rooms of the house with the most cutting-edge art and design of the day.

  • Orazio Gentileschi was one of Queen Henrietta Maria’s favourite artists. His original ceiling was removed from the House in 1708 and given by Queen Anne to her favourite, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough.

  • The House is said to be haunted. In 1966 two Canadian tourists had their photographs developed and saw what appeared to be a shrouded figure - possibly more than one - ascending the Tulip Stairs.

More previews from Culture24

Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art: From the Louvre to the National Gallery, the great Romantic's art lives through fictions

Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making - Outsider Art at Chichester's Pallant House Gallery

Gillian Wearing's windows, Laurie Anderson's music for dogs and Lou Reed's guitars to feature in Brighton Festival 2016
Latest comment: >Make a comment
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
    Back to article
    Your comment:
    DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted at www.culture24.org.uk are the opinion of the comment writer, not Culture24. Culture24 reserves the right to withdraw or withhold from publication any comments that are deemed to be hearsay or potentially libellous, or make false or unsubstantiated allegations or are deemed to be spam or unrelated to the article at which they are posted.

    Events

    • 1 mile
    • 2 miles
    • 3 miles
    • 4 miles
    • 5 miles
    • 10 miles
    • 20 miles
    • 50 miles
    • Any time
    • Today
    • This week
    • This month
    • This year

    advertisement