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
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
News
Danczuk has claimed he is a 'man of the world'
news
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: IT Buyer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This award winning IT company are currently re...

Recruitment Genius: IT Account Manager

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineers

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor