Find out about new acquisitions to the Royal Museums Greenwich collections
Find out about new acquisitions to the Royal Museums Greenwich collections.
Royal Museums Greenwich holds one of the most significant art collections in the country and it is crucial to telling the Museum’s stories. Greenwich itself is, of course, central to this. Pieter Tillemans’ elegant ‘View of the Thames, Blackwall Reach and Greenwich Marsh from One Tree Hill’, of about 1730, evokes the history of Greenwich as a royal, riverine and leisure site. The Astronomer Royals lived in Flamsteed House with their families, which we can show through the miniature portraits of Nevil Maskelyne and his wife Sophia, and a charming portrait by William Owen of their daughter, Margaret.
Some recent acquisitions show the court culture, which was thriving at the Queen’s House and Greenwich Palace in the 17th and 18th centuries. Edwaert Collier’s ‘Still Life’ represents a genre widely collected by royal and aristocratic patrons, but also tells the story of the wider cultural impact of navigation and maritime exploration.
The first depictions of a kangaroo and a dingo in Western art, George Stubbs’s pair of paintings ‘saved for the nation’ in 2013, were inspired by Captain Cook’s first Pacific journey of discovery on HM Bark Endeavour in 1768–71.
Along with exploration, trade was one of the significant ways in which Britain engaged with the world. A recent acquisition is an 18th-century tankard and soup dish, examples of Chinese decorative arts made for export to Britain. They belonged to the Lee and Gough families, key players within the East India Company.
We are keen to reflect British artists’ position and influence within a European, or indeed global, context. Richard Parkes Bonington’s ‘Fishing boats and a paddle steamer, Boulogne’, is an outstanding example of a watercolour by an artist who established a powerful link between British and French traditions of marine painting.
Both naval and merchant navies are central to the National Maritime Museum’s narratives. Richard Livesay’s painting of ‘Captain Richard Grindall and his family’ is an exceptional group portrait. Equally extraordinary is the work of the artist John Kingsley Cook, who was a radio officer in the Merchant Navy in the Second World War. He recorded his wartime experiences, both at sea and in captivity, in a collection of drawings and paintings, presented to the Museum in 2012.
Our art collection also represents Britain’s relationship with the sea. Alan Sorrell’s ‘Working Boats from around the British Coast’ was commissioned to decorate the bar of HMS Campania, an aircraft carrier transformed into a floating exhibition space during the Festival of Britain in 1951. And a large wall hanging by A.H. Williamson, from 1955, is a vivid illustration of the history of British shipbuilding.
Closer to us in time, Paul Duke’s recent photographic series ‘At sea’ captures a waning Scottish fishing community, through the lens of traditional portrait modes. While Yinka Shonibare MBE’s ‘Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle’ examines the confluence of Empire, nationhood and trade through a seminal moment in British history. Wolfgang Tillmans’s ‘ESO’ series joins a small but important collection of art related to astronomy, which we hope to expand in the future.