Imagine, if you will, that Prince Philip took it into his head not only to build somewhere to rest and entertain friends whilst hunting but also to commission a young architect to build the structure in a radical new style. Imagine the fuss. Well, that is exactly what Anne of Denmark, consort of James I, did for the building now known as the Queen’s House in Greenwich. The Queen’s House was the first Palladian building in England, the work of the young Inigo Jones. Now is the time to visit, as the Queen’s House has just reopened after a fourteen month, three-million-pound restoration.
What do you do with a beautiful, historic building when you have none of the original furniture and the pictures that were painted for the most stunning room of all were removed over three hundred years ago and installed in another royal house? You turn the place into an art gallery, but what an art gallery. The glowing blues and reds that you see on the walls of the King’s and Queen’s rooms are as Inigo Jones intended. The ceiling of the Great Hall, bereft of its original paintings, has been reworked by the Turner Prize winner Richard Wright. He has come up with a fine series of swirls and organic shapes in gold leaf. The effect is stunning, it looks shimmery but white and most of all elegant. Like really, really upmarket wallpaper.
In order to get from the Great Hall to the opulent King’s and Queen’s Presence rooms you need to climb the Tulip Staircase. This is not just any old staircase or even any old spiral staircase. In another first for the Queen’s House it is the first self-supported staircase in Britain. It’s balustrade depicts stylized tulips, hence the name, that were so popular at the time. They have repainted in the deep blue called blue smalt.
Three hundred pictures hang on the walls here ranging from Lowry to Rubens by way of Turner. Most of them come from the collection of the Royal Maritime Museum but others have been loaned from other major British collections. The Armada portrait of Queen Elizabeth I was purchased for the nation after a public fundraising, she now has a new home in the Queen’s House. Elizabeth, who was born in Greenwich, now lives in the same room as portraits of the other Queens associated with the Queen’s House.
Greenwich is a beautiful place, a fact acknowledged by its UNESCO World Heritage Status. Coffee and cake are best taken either in the form of a picnic taking in the view or in the most spectacular tea room that I have seen so far in any museum, under the hull of the Cutty Sark.
Romney Road, Greenwich, London, SE10 9NF
Open: Daily 10am-5pm