John Munday: Respected curator at the National Maritime Museum

 

When the full history of British national museums in the 20th century is written, the late 1960s and '70s may seem rather a golden age.

Grants-in-aid improved and anyone who began as a young subject specialist was likely to learn their trade under senior curators whose varied experience, including war service, enriched their role as mentors. John Munday was one such, of wide and curious knowledge, and engaging brio to match.

His originally dark-bearded bohemian style suggested Whistler and artistic 1890s Chelsea but his milieu was eastwards, at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. There he eventually became a greyer but still debonair "Lord High Everything Else" other than pictures, shipping and navigational collections, as Keeper of its eclectic Department of Weapons and Antiquities – "W&A".

Born in 1924 in Portsmouth, Munday left the Northern Grammar School in 1940, becoming an assistant in the City library until drafted into the Navy in 1942. Only briefly afloat in a minesweeper, he served mostly in operational support in southern Italy. Commissioned Sub-Lieutenant RNVR in 1944, he was demobilised in 1946 after a final stint at Portsmouth in HMS Victory, which was (and is) the flagship there.

He then trained in fine art and in 1950 gained a Durham BA at King's College, Newcastle, where he was taught by Roger de Grey – later President of the Royal Academy – and met his future wife. In 1951 he came to Greenwich as Assistant Keeper in charge of the NMM Library, where he developed an interest in naval uniform and illustrated books.

The latter led to his introduction to descendants of the restless and scientifically inclined marine artist EW Cooke RA, FRS (1811– 80), on whom he worked for nearly 40 years; first for an MA at Durham in 1961 and eventually for a magnificently illustrated full study (1996) based on Cooke's diaries and vast surviving output, a range of which he helped acquire for the NMM. In 1964, having only done one library exhibition, on Seaborne Mail (1960), he became its Curator of Presentation, a trial post with a brief to enliven hitherto staid historical displays.

With few resources, his visual flair and talent for telling stories through imaginative associations of diverse items proved a success. Highlights included exhibitions on charts, lifesaving and Admiralty silver oar-maces (both with publications), and tea-clippers. From 1968, with Basil Greenhill as the new Director driving full redevelopment of the Museum galleries, Munday's role expanded to running all display and design services, including early experimental refurnishing of the 17th-century Queen's House.

In 1971, when "W&A" was formed, he was appointed to head it (becoming Keeper in 1979), again with a strong display brief, initially concentrated on new 19th and then 18th century naval galleries, though also making many acquisitions, notably of ceramics. While often under pressure, his staff were invariably cheerful, since he was ever-encouraging, trusted and treated them as allies and friends rather than subordinates. In 1972 he was elected FSA and from 1979-84 – when he became Curator Emeritus on retiring – he was Secretary of the Society for Nautical Research. From 1980 and 1985 both the SS Great Britain and the Victory also benefited from his presence on their advisory committees.

Munday drew and painted all his adult life. He illustrated two booklets on swords and firearms, and his own Heads and Tails: the Necessary Seating – an entertainingly arcane essay on lavatorial arrangements in the sailing Navy (for a colleague's festschrift in 1978). He painted original portraits, but he was also a skilled copyist of historical ones and of marine subjects: copies by him of early marine works at Greenwich are in the maritime museums at Barcelona and Lisbon.

One of Admiral Duncan (after Raeburn) is in the Trafalgar Tavern at Greenwich, where he lived before it was re-converted from flats into a pub in the late 1960s. He and his wife made an art of improving derelict houses, notably their first large 18th-century one in Rochester. They only "went modern" in Hampshire long after retirement, but enjoyed travel, and until age limited range also had a house in the US, where their sons settled.

John Munday, museum curator and artist: born Portsmouth 10 August 1924; married 1953 Brenda Warden (two sons); died Alresford, Hampshire 20 April 2012.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York