Interior of the Painted Hall, Greenwich Hospital

Interior of the Painted Hall, Greenwich Hospital

January 6, 1838
Unknown maker

Published in The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge

The Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich, a royal charity housing naval veterans, was founded in the late seventeenth century and built on a grand scale. In 1795, at the height of the French Revolutionary War, Captain William Locker suggested that Greenwich Hospital, as it was called, host a public gallery celebrating naval achievement. Thirty years later, this vision was carried out by his son Edward Hawke Locker, who proposed that the hospital’s Painted Hall“ could form an admirable Gallery for Pictures, Sculptures and other objects commemorative of the distinguished Exploits of the British Navy.” The resulting display combined gifts from the monarch with donations from naval officers’ descendants of portraits and marine paintings originally designed as domestic commemorative objects. Combined with Thornhill’s celebratory decorative scheme, these artworks became part of a statement on national maritime glory in the aftermath of the French wars.

The article accompanying this engraving addressed the apparent mismatch between these maimed bodies of the veterans, known as Greenwich Pensioners, who  served as guides in the gallery, and the elaborate architectural spaces they occupied: “The appearance of these veterans,—some without a leg or arm, others hobbling from the infirmities of wounds or years, and all clothed in old-fashioned blue coats or breeches with cocked hats,—would oddly contrast with the splendor of the buildings which they inhabit, did not the recollection that these men were amongst the noblest defenders of their country, give a dignity to the objects that everywhere present themselves.”

2007 +S164 (vol. 7)
Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University