Naval Officers of World War 1 by Sir Arthur Stockdale Cope, 1921© National Portrait Gallery, London

Giant painting of First World War naval commanders restored to view at London's National Portrait Gallery

Posted on on 19 May 2014
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A vast painting of Britain's First World War naval commanders is back on show at the National Portrait Gallery in London for the first time since the 1960s.

Measuring over five metres in length, Sir Arthur Stockdale Cope’s group portrait, Naval Officers of World War 1, is set at the Admiralty in Whitehall.

It had been kept in storage for more than 50 years because of its delicate condition.

Through a public appeal, the National Portrait Gallery raised £20,000 for essential conservation work to allow the painting to go back on display as part of its events marking the Centenary of the First World War.

Naval Officers of World War 1 features 22 portraits of the Royal Navy's most senior figures in the Admiralty Boardroom. Among them are Admiral Jellicoe and his successor as Commander of the Grand Fleet, Admiral Beatty. 

The Gallery says years of discoloured varnish and surface dirt have been skifully removed from the painting (shown above, during conservation), revealing tones in colour and subtle details which were previously masked from view.

The giant canvas had to be carefully rolled into a cylinder so that it could be transported before being stretched and assembled onsite at the Gallery in Central London.

Dating from 1921, Cope's masterpiece was one of three group portraits commissioned by the leading financier, Sir Abraham Bailey, to commemorate the role of the Army, Royal Navy and political leaders in bringing the war to a close. 

Sir James Guthrie’s Statesmen of World War 1 and John Singer Sargent’s General Officers of World War 1, are on continuous display at the National Portrait Gallery as the centrepiece of its Great War holdings.

Paul Moorhouse, the Gallery's 20th Century Curator, welcomed the return of Naval Officers of World War 1: "Marking the important role of the Navy during the Great War, its return to public display on the centenary of the War’s outbreak is hugely significant."

'Naval Officers of World War 1' is on display in Room 32, at the National Portrait Gallery, London. Admission is free.

Source: National Portrait Gallery

Images: © National Portrait Gallery, London

Posted by: Peter Alhadeff, Centenary News