Greenwich Hospital has a large and historic art collection of over 700 artefacts.
The origins of the collection are from the “The National Collection of Naval Art” which was established in 1824 at the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich in the Painted Hall.
The ’Naval Gallery’, as it became known, was Britain’s first ‘national historical’ art museum: which aimed to promote Naval patriotism, and maintain the public charitable profile of the Hospital, by a display of art showing great events and figures of Britain’s maritime past.
The Gallery was based entirely on gifts. The Hospital already had some paintings and George IV launched it by presenting over 30 naval portraits from the Royal Collection.
In 1829 he added Turner’s ‘Battle of Trafalgar’ with its pendant, Philippe de Loutherbourg’s ‘Battle of 1 June 1794’.
Others followed his example and eventually the Painted Hall held nearly 300 works of art and continued to have Royal patronage with the presentation of Nelson’s uniform which was purchased for the Hospital by Prince Albert.
The Gallery was very popular in the 19th century and was closed only following the establishment of the National Maritime Museum.
Today, the majority of the Hospital’s collection is housed in two locations: the National Maritime and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.
Royal Museums Greenwich – National Maritime Museum
The buildings of the NMM were originally built by the Hospital to house the Royal Hospital School. In 1933 the School moved to Suffolk and the NMM moved in to the Greenwich buildings in 1936.
Many of the most famous paintings in the National Maritime Museum are from the Greenwich Hospital collection including Turner’s Battle of Trafalgar, Lemuel Francis Abbott’s Portrait of Nelson and numerous painting of famous Admirals by, Joshua Reynolds, Peter Lely and Geoffrey Kneller.
There are also a number of other artefacts including relics from Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition of 1845 and the uniforms Lord Nelson wore at the Battles of the Nile (1798) and Trafalgar (1805).
The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich
The buildings of the Old Royal Naval College were the home to the 20,000 Greenwich Hospital pensioners of the Royal Hospital for Seamen between 1705-1869 and later housed the Royal Naval College.
Today, the ORNC site is home to the University of Greenwich and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance as well as some of the Hospital’s paintings, furniture, statues, silverware and ship models.
The majority of items on display are in the Painted Hall, Nelson Room, the Chapel and Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre.
The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805
J. M. W. Turner, ‘The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805’: painted in 1822–24 for George IV, who presented it to the Hospital in 1829. NMM BHC0525
©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London