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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
News
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
news
Life and Style
love + sex
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
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

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Recruitment Genius: 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Engineer - Managed Services Provider

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Eng...

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot