Past Events

'A Great and Noble Design - Sir James Thornhill's preparatory sketches for the Painted Hall at Greenwich

Lecture – Anya Matthews, Richard Johns

  • 31 May 2017
  • 6:00 – 8:00 pm
  • The exhibition as research
  • Paul Mellon Centre

Busy classical painted scene with text in the bottom corner Sir James Thornhill carried out his vast painted scheme at Greenwich Hospital between 1707 and 1726 and his achievement remains unrivalled in the history of British art. Thornhill’s preparatory sketches for this complex cycle of paintings were recently brought together for the first time in an exhibition organised by the Old Royal Naval College with the support of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. The history of the commission was traced through 29 drawings across numerous collections. Thornhill emerged as a skilled draughtsman, and one adept at navigating the fraught party politics and regime changes of Augustan Britain. The project was designed to inform the present Painted Hall conservation project and intended as a contribution both to the study of mural painting as a genre, and to efforts to raise the profile of a talented artist hailed, in his day, as ‘our Ingenious Countryman’. Anya and Richard will be discussing aspects of the exhibition and cataloguing project and the research that informed it.

Image credit: Thornhill, James (1675-1734), Design for the painted ceiling of Painted Hall, Greenwich Hospital (recto) © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

About the speakers

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    Anya Matthews is an art and architectural historian and works as Research Curator for the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich where a major conservation project on Sir James Thornhill's decorative scheme is underway. Her PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art (2015) examined the architecture and political uses of London's livery halls in the seventeenth century. She is a contributor to last year's boo, co-edited by Mark Hallett and published by the Centre with Yale University Press, Court, Country, City: British Art and Architecture, 1660-1735.

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    Richard Johns is Senior Lecturer in History of Art at the University of York where his research and teaching encompasses various aspects of British art. Landscape-related publications include Framing Robert Aggas: The Painter-Stainers’ Company and the English School of Painters (2008), Turner and the Sea with Christine Riding (2013) and From the Nore: Turner at the Mouth of the Thames (2016). In 2019 he co-curated the exhibition Ruskin, Turner & the Storm Cloud with Suzanne Fagence Cooper.