A colourful history of the Queen's House

Greenwich Comedy festival

Between 21 - 29 September there will be no access in front of the Queen's House Art Gallery, the South Lawns or the colonnades due to Greenwich Comedy Festival. The National Maritime Museum car park will also be closed. All our sites will be open as normal. 

Today's guest blog is by Patrick Baty, a historic paint consultant who's been journeying through time (and paint).

Exterior of the Queen's House Greenwich
It was at a site meeting during the current renovation of the Queen’s House that I noticed that the paint on the exterior of the flanking west block seemed to be a slightly different colour to that on the east block. In order to see if this might merely be a trick of the light, we took measurements of the paint using a portable spectrophotometer.
Measuring Portland Stone Columns with a Spectrophotometer at the Queen's House
Sure enough they were different, one was slightly more pink and lighter than the other.  However, no one was at fault as the two paints were broadly ‘within industry standards’. This goes to show that batches of paint should be assessed carefully before application.
West block of the Queen's House
This little exercise prompted a commission to undertake an analysis of the paint on the exterior of the Queen’s House in order to see if evidence survived of the original treatment.  At the same time, I was asked to examine the two later blocks, which comprise the National Maritime Museum.
Samples of paint were set as cross sections and examined under the microscope in order to see the layers.
Queen’s House - cross section showing 20th century paint
Queen’s House - cross section showing 20th century paint
The analysis suggested that more paint survives on the wings than on the Queen’s House and it points at the latter having been re-rendered in the mid-twentieth century.  Subsequent decorative schemes have been in variations of pale stone colour in a succession of smooth and textured paints.
It also appears that the West (Central) and East Wings, which were built in 1807 were re-rendered when they were extended in 1862.  Some samples of dark stone colour can be found on these buildings.  The original paint from the main entrance to the NMM, which was built in 1873, also survives.  The first scheme on this entrance is the same as the third scheme on the 1862 render of the wings which indicates that paint survives from both phases.  Early photographs suggest that the Queen’s House would have been the same colour.
‘Fame’ (1873) set in the ‘asphalte’ parade ground ca. 1900-10
‘Fame’ (1873) set in the ‘asphalte’ parade ground ca. 1900-10
NB how the Queen’s House has the same tonality as the East Wing
Sadly one can only report on what survives, but at least we can be sure what the Queen’s House looked like from the 1860s and now have a full decorative history of the later wings.  
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Guest blog was by Patrick Baty