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The British Museum, in the
Bloomsbury Bloomsbury is a district in the West End of London The West End of London (commonly referred to as the West End) is a district of Central London Central London is the innermost part of London London is the capital city, capital ...

Bloomsbury
area of London, England, is a public institution dedicated to
human history Human history, or world history, is the narrative of Human, humanity's past. It is understood through archaeology, anthropology, genetics, and linguistics, and since the History of writing, advent of writing, from primary source, primary and ...
,
art Art is a diverse range of (products of) human activities Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposable thumbs, hairlessness, and intelligence allowing the use o ...

art
and
culture Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and Norm (social), norms found in human Society, societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, Social norm, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals i ...

culture
. Its permanent collection of some eight million works is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence, having been widely collected during the era of the
British Empire The British Empire was composed of the dominions, Crown colony, colonies, protectorates, League of Nations mandate, mandates, and other Dependent territory, territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. ...

British Empire
. It documents the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present.Sculptures and applied art are in the
Victoria and Albert Museum The Victoria and Albert Museum (often abbreviated as the V&A) in London London is the capital city, capital and List of urban areas in the United Kingdom, largest city of England and the United Kingdom. The city stands on the River Thame ...

Victoria and Albert Museum
; the British Museum houses earlier art, non-Western art, prints and drawings. Art of a later date is at
Tate Modern Tate Modern is an art gallery located in London. It houses the United Kingdom's national collection of international modern Modern may refer to: History *Modern history Human history, also known as world history, is the description of h ...

Tate Modern
. The National Gallery holds the National Collection of Western European Art.
Tate Britain Tate Britain, known from 1897 to 1932 as the National Gallery of British Art and from 1932 to 2000 as the Tate Gallery, is an art museum on Millbank in the City of Westminster City of Westminster is an Inner London, inner London City status ...

Tate Britain
holds British Art from 1500 onwards.
It was the first public national
museum A museum ( ; plural museums or, rarely, musea) is a building or institution that Preservation (library and archival science), cares for and displays a collection (artwork), collection of artifacts and other objects of artistic, culture, cu ...

museum
in the world. The British Museum was established in 1753, largely based on the collections of the Irish
physician A physician (American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. Currently, American ...

physician
and
scientist A scientist is a person who conducts scientific research The scientific method is an Empirical evidence, empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century. It involves ...

scientist
Sir Hans Sloane Sir Hans Sloane, 1st Baronet (16 April 1660 – 11 January 1753), was an Anglo-Irish Anglo-Irish () is a term which was more commonly used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to identify an ethnic group An ethnic group or ethnicity is ...
. It first opened to the public in 1759, in Montagu House, on the site of the current building. Its expansion over the following 250 years was largely a result of expanding
British colonisation
British colonisation
and has resulted in the creation of several branch institutions, the first being the
Natural History Museum A natural history museum or museum of natural history is a scientific institution with natural history scientific collection, collections that include current and historical records of animals, plants, Fungus, fungi, ecosystems, geology, paleo ...

Natural History Museum
in 1881. In 1973, the British Library Act 1972 detached the library department from the British Museum, but it continued to host the now separated
British Library The British Library is the national library A national library is a library established by a government as a country's preeminent repository of information. Unlike public library, public libraries, these rarely allow citizens to borrow book ...

British Library
in the same
Reading Room Reading room may refer to: * Reference library * British Museum Reading Room * Christian Science Reading Room, a place where the public can study, borrow, or purchase Christian Science literature * The Reading Room (film), ''The Reading Room'' (fil ...

Reading Room
and building as the museum until 1997. The museum is a
non-departmental public body In the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guardian' and Telegraph' use Britain as a synonym for the United Kingdom. Some prefer t ...
sponsored by the
Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport , type = Department , logo = , logo_width = , logo_caption = , seal = , seal_width = , seal_caption = , picture = Government Offices Great George Street.jpg , picture_width ...
, and as with all national museums in the UK it charges no admission fee, except for loan exhibitions. Its ownership of some of its most famous objects originating in other countries is disputed and remains the subject of international controversy, most notably in the case of the
Elgin Marbles The Elgin Marbles (), also known as the Parthenon Marbles ( el, Γλυπτά του Παρθενώνα), are a collection of Classical Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek (modern , romanized: ''Ellinik ...
of Greece and the
Rosetta Stone The Rosetta Stone is a granodiorite stele inscribed with three versions of a Rosetta Stone decree, decree issued in Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes. The top and middle texts are in Eg ...

Rosetta Stone
of Egypt. The museum was closed 208 days in 2020 due to the
COVID-19 pandemic The COVID-19 pandemic is an ongoing global pandemic A pandemic (from , , "all" and , , "local people" the 'crowd') is an of an that has spread across a large region, for instance multiple or worldwide, affecting a substantial numbe ...

COVID-19 pandemic
. Nonetheless, it received 1,275,466 visitors, ranking it fifth on the
List of most-visited art museums This article lists the most-visited art museum An art museum is a building or space for the display of art Art is a diverse range of (products of) human activities Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread ...
in the world.


History


Sir Hans Sloane

Although today principally a museum of cultural art objects and
antiquities struggling with a Lapith The Lapiths (; grc, Λαπίθαι) are a group of legendary people in Greek mythology Greek mythology is the body of myths originally told by the Ancient Greece, ancient Greeks, and a genre of Ancient Greek folklor ...

antiquities
, the British Museum was founded as a "universal museum". Its foundations lie in the will of the Irish physician and naturalist
Sir Hans Sloane Sir Hans Sloane, 1st Baronet (16 April 1660 – 11 January 1753), was an Anglo-Irish Anglo-Irish () is a term which was more commonly used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to identify an ethnic group An ethnic group or ethnicity is ...
(1660–1753), a London-based doctor and scientist from
Ulster Ulster (; ga, Ulaidh or ''Cúige Uladh'' ; sco, label=Ulster Scots dialects, Ulster Scots, Ulstèr or ''Ulster'') is one of the four traditional Irish provinces of Ireland, provinces, in the north of Ireland. It is made up of nine Counties ...

Ulster
. During the course of his lifetime, and particularly after he married the widow of a wealthy Jamaican planter, Sloane gathered a large collection of curiosities and, not wishing to see his collection broken up after death, he bequeathed it to King George II, for the nation, for a sum of £20,000. At that time, Sloane's collection consisted of around 71,000 objects of all kinds including some 40,000 printed books, 7,000
manuscript A manuscript (abbreviated MS for singular and MSS for plural) was, traditionally, any document written by hand – or, once practical typewriter A typewriter is a or machine for characters. Typically, a typewriter has an array ...

manuscript
s, extensive natural history specimens including 337 volumes of dried plants, prints and drawings including those by
Albrecht Dürer Albrecht Dürer (; ; 21 May 1471 – 6 April 1528),Müller, Peter O. (1993) ''Substantiv-Derivation in Den Schriften Albrecht Dürers'', Walter de Gruyter. . sometimes spelled in English as Durer or Duerer (without an umlaut), was a German pain ...

Albrecht Dürer
and antiquities from
Sudan Sudan ( or ; ar, السودان, as-Sūdān), officially the Republic of the Sudan ( ar, جمهورية السودان, link=no, Jumhūriyyat as-Sūdān), is a country in Northeast Africa. It borders the countries of Central African Republ ...
,
Egypt Egypt ( ar, مِصر, Miṣr), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a transcontinental country This is a list of countries located on more than one continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identi ...

Egypt
,
Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, Elláda, ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeastern Europe Southeast Europe or Southeastern Europe () is a geographical subregion A subregion is a part of a larger region In geogr ...
,
Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus , image_map = Map of comune of Rome (metropolitan city of Capital Rome, region Lazio, Italy).svg , map_caption = The te ...
, the Ancient Near and
Far East The Far East is a term to refer to the geographical regions that includes East and Southeast Asia Southeast Asia, also spelled South East Asia and South-East Asia, and also known as Southeastern Asia or SEA, is the geographical United Nati ...

Far East
and the
Americas The Americas (also collectively called America) is a landmass comprising the totality of North America, North and South America. The Americas make up most of the land in Earth's Western Hemisphere and comprise the New World. Along with th ...
.


Foundation (1753)

On 7 June 1753, King George II gave his Royal Assent to the
Act of Parliament Acts of parliament, sometimes referred to as primary legislation, are texts of law passed by the Legislature, legislative body of a jurisdiction (often a parliament or council). In most countries, acts of parliament begin as a Bill (law), bill, wh ...
which established the British Museum. The
British Museum Act 1753 The British Museum Act 1753 ( 26 Geo 2 c 22) was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in May 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and the Pa ...
also added two other libraries to the Sloane collection, namely the Cottonian Library, assembled by Sir Robert Cotton, dating back to
Elizabethan The Elizabethan era is the epoch in the of the during the reign of (1558–1603). Historians often depict it as the in English history. The symbol of (a female personification of Great Britain) was first used in 1572, and often thereafter ...
times, and the Harleian Library, the collection of the
Earls of Oxford Earl of Oxford is a dormant title in the Peerage of England, first created for Aubrey de Vere, 1st Earl of Oxford, Aubrey de Vere by the Empress Matilda in 1141. De Vere family, His family was to hold the title for more than five and a half centu ...
. They were joined in 1757 by the "Old Royal Library", now the Royal manuscripts, assembled by various
British monarchs There have been 12 British monarchs since the political union A political union is a type of state which is composed of or created out of smaller states. The process of creating such a state out of smaller states is called unification. Unifica ...
. Together these four "foundation collections" included many of the most treasured books now in the
British Library The British Library is the national library A national library is a library established by a government as a country's preeminent repository of information. Unlike public library, public libraries, these rarely allow citizens to borrow book ...

British Library
including the
Lindisfarne Gospels upright=1.2, Folio 27r from the Lindisfarne Gospels contains the incipit from the Gospel of Matthew. The Lindisfarne Gospels (London, British Library Cotton MS Nero D.IV) is an illuminated manuscript An illuminated manuscript is a manuscript ...
and the sole surviving manuscript of ''
Beowulf ''Beowulf'' (; ang, Bēowulf ) is an Old English epic poem An epic poem is a lengthy narrative poem Narrative poetry is a form of poetry Poetry (derived from the Greek language, Greek ''poiesis'', "making") is a form of literat ...

Beowulf
''.The estimated footage of the various libraries as reported to the trustees has been summarised by Harris (1998), 3,6: Sloane 4,600, Harley 1,700, Cotton 384, Edwards 576, The Royal Library 1,890. The British Museum was the first of a new kind of museum – national, belonging to neither church nor king, freely open to the public and aiming to collect everything. Sloane's collection, while including a vast miscellany of objects, tended to reflect his scientific interests. The addition of the
Cotton Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber Fiber or fibre (from la, fibra, links=no) is a natural Nature, in the broadest sense, is the natural, physical, material world or universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of s ...
and Harley manuscripts introduced a literary and
antiquarian An antiquarian or antiquary (from the Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Thro ...
element, and meant that the British Museum now became both
National Museum A national museum is a museum maintained and funded by a national government. In many countries it denotes a museum run by the central government, while other museums are run by regional or local governments. In other countries a much greater numb ...
and
library A library is a collection of materials, books or media that are easily accessible for use and not just for display purposes. It is responsible for housing updated information in order to meet the user's needs on a daily basis. A library provi ...

library
.


Cabinet of curiosities (1753–1778)

The body of trustees decided on a converted 17th-century mansion, Montagu House, as a location for the museum, which it bought from the
Montagu family Montagu may refer to: * Montagu (surname) Titles of nobility * Duke of Montagu * Marquess of Montagu ** John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu (c. 1431 – 1471), Yorkist leader in the Wars of the Roses * Baron Montagu of Beaulieu * Baron Mont ...
for £20,000. The trustees rejected Buckingham House, on the site now occupied by
Buckingham Palace Buckingham Palace () is the London London is the capital Capital most commonly refers to: * Capital letter Letter case (or just case) is the distinction between the letters that are in larger uppercase or capitals (or mor ...

Buckingham Palace
, on the grounds of cost and the unsuitability of its location.This was perhaps rather unfortunate as the title to the house was complicated by the fact that part of the building had been erected on leasehold property (the Crown lease of which ran out in 1771); perhaps that is why
George III George III (George William Frederick; 4 June 173829 January 1820) was King of Great Britain There have been 12 British monarchs since the political union of the Kingdom of England The Kingdom of England was a sovereign state on th ...

George III
paid such a modest price (nominally £28,000) for what was to become Buckingham Palace. See
Howard Colvin Sir Howard Montagu Colvin (15 October 1919 – 27 December 2007) was a British architectural historian An architectural historian is a person who studies and writes about the history of architecture, and is regarded as an authority on it. ...
''et al.'' (1976), 134.
With the acquisition of Montagu House, the first exhibition galleries and
reading room Reading room may refer to: * Reference library * British Museum Reading Room * Christian Science Reading Room, a place where the public can study, borrow, or purchase Christian Science literature * The Reading Room (film), ''The Reading Room'' (fil ...

reading room
for scholars opened on 15 January 1759. At this time, the largest parts of collection were the library, which took up the majority of the rooms on the ground floor of Montagu House, and the natural history objects, which took up an entire wing on the second state storey of the building. In 1763, the trustees of the British Museum, under the influence of Peter Collinson and
William WatsonWilliam, Willie, Bill or Billy Watson may refer to: Entertainment * William Watson (songwriter) (1794–1840), English concert hall singer and songwriter * William Watson (poet) (1858–1935), English poet * Billy Watson (actor) (born 1923), Americ ...
, employed the former student of
Carl Linnaeus Carl Linnaeus (; 23 May 1707 – 10 January 1778), also known after his ennoblement Ennoblement is the conferring of nobility—the induction of an individual into the noble social class, class. Currently only a few kingdoms still grant nob ...

Carl Linnaeus
,
Daniel Solander Daniel Carlsson Solander or Daniel Charles Solander (19 February 1733 – 13 May 1782) was a Swedish naturalist Natural history is a domain of inquiry involving organisms, including animals, fungus, fungi, and plants, in their natural envi ...

Daniel Solander
, to reclassify the natural history collection according to the Linnaean system, thereby making the Museum a public centre of learning accessible to the full range of European natural historians. In 1823, King George IV gave the
King's Library The King's Library was one of the most important collections of books and pamphlets of the Age of Enlightenment The Age of Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason or simply the Enlightenment); ger, Aufklärung, "Enlightenment"; i ...
assembled by George III, and Parliament gave the right to a copy of every book published in the country, thereby ensuring that the museum's library would expand indefinitely. During the few years after its foundation the British Museum received several further gifts, including the Thomason Collection of Civil War Tracts and
David Garrick David Garrick (19 February 1717 – 20 January 1779) was an English people, English actor, playwright, Actor-manager, theatre manager and producer who influenced nearly all aspects of European theatrical practice throughout the 18th century, a ...
's library of 1,000 printed plays. The predominance of natural history, books and manuscripts began to lessen when in 1772 the museum acquired for £8,410 its first significant antiquities in Sir William Hamilton's "first" collection of
Greek vases Ancient Greek pottery, due to its relative durability, comprises a large part of the archaeological record of ancient Greece, and since there is so much of it (over 100,000 painted vases are recorded in the Corpus vasorum antiquorum), it has exert ...
.


Indolence and energy (1778–1800)

From 1778, a display of objects from the
South Sea
South Sea
s brought back from the round-the-world voyages of Captain
James Cook Captain Captain is a title for the commander of a military unit, the commander of a ship, aeroplane, spacecraft, or other vessel, or the commander of a port, fire department or police department, election precinct, etc. The captain is a milit ...

James Cook
and the travels of other explorers fascinated visitors with a glimpse of previously unknown lands. The bequest of a collection of books,
engraved gem An engraved gem, frequently referred to as an intaglio, is a small and usually semi-precious A gemstone (also called a fine gem, jewel, precious stone, or semi-precious stone) is a piece of mineral In geology Geology (from the Ancien ...
s, coins, prints and drawings by
Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode (1730–1799) was an English book and old master print An old master print is a work of art produced by a printing process within the Western tradition. The term remains current in the art trade, and there is no eas ...
in 1800 did much to raise the museum's reputation; but Montagu House became increasingly crowded and decrepit and it was apparent that it would be unable to cope with further expansion. The museum's first notable addition towards its collection of antiquities, since its foundation, was by Sir William Hamilton (1730–1803), British Ambassador to
Naples Naples (; it, Napoli ; nap, Napule ), from grc, Νεάπολις, Neápolis, lit=new city. is the regional capital of and the third-largest city of , after and , with a population of 967,069 within the city's administrative limits as of ...

Naples
, who sold his collection of Greek and Roman artefacts to the museum in 1784 together with a number of other antiquities and natural history specimens. A list of donations to the museum, dated 31 January 1784, refers to the Hamilton bequest of a "Colossal Foot of an
Apollo Apollo, grc, Ἀπόλλωνος, ''Apóllōnos'', label=genitive , ; , grc-dor, Ἀπέλλων, ''Apéllōn'', ; grc, Ἀπείλων, ''Apeílōn'', label=Arcadocypriot Greek, ; grc-aeo, Ἄπλουν, ''Áploun'', la, Apollō, ...

Apollo
in Marble". It was one of two antiquities of Hamilton's collection drawn for him by Francesco Progenie, a pupil of Pietro Fabris, who also contributed a number of drawings of Mount Vesuvius sent by Hamilton to the
Royal Society The Royal Society, formally The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, is a learned society A learned society (; also known as a learned academy, scholarly society, or academic association) is an organization that exis ...
in London.


Growth and change (1800–1825)

In the early 19th century the foundations for the extensive collection of sculpture began to be laid and Greek, Roman and Egyptian artefacts dominated the antiquities displays. After the defeat of the
French campaign The Battle of France, also known as the Fall of France, was the Nazi Germany, German invasion of French Third Republic, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands during the Second World War. On 3 September 1939, French declaration of war ...
in the
Battle of the Nile The Battle of the Nile (also known as the Battle of Aboukir Bay; french: Bataille d'Aboukir) was a major naval battle fought between the British Royal Navy The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's Navy, naval warfare force. Although war ...

Battle of the Nile
, in 1801, the British Museum acquired more Egyptian sculptures and in 1802
King George III George III (George William Frederick; 4 June 173829 January 1820) was King of Great Britain and of Monarchy of Ireland, Ireland from 25 October 1760 until Acts of Union 1800, the union of the two kingdoms on 1 January 1801, after which he wa ...

King George III
presented the
Rosetta Stone The Rosetta Stone is a granodiorite stele inscribed with three versions of a Rosetta Stone decree, decree issued in Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes. The top and middle texts are in Eg ...

Rosetta Stone
– key to the deciphering of hieroglyphs. Gifts and purchases from Henry Salt, British consul general in Egypt, beginning with the Colossal bust of Ramesses II in 1818, laid the foundations of the collection of Egyptian Monumental Sculpture. Many Greek sculptures followed, notably the first purpose-built exhibition space, the Charles Towneley collection, much of it Roman sculpture, in 1805. In 1806,
Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine (; 20 July 176614 November 1841) was a Scottish nobleman, soldier, politician and diplomat, known primarily for the removal of marble sculptures (known as the Elgin Marbles) from the Pa ...
, ambassador to the
Ottoman Empire The Ottoman Empire (; ', ; or '; )info page on bookat Martin Luther University) // CITED: p. 36 (PDF p. 38/338). was an empire that controlled much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa, Northern Africa between the 14th ...
from 1799 to 1803 removed the large collection of marble sculptures from the
Parthenon The Parthenon (; grc, Παρθενών, , ; ell, Παρθενώνας, , ) is a former temple A temple (from the Latin ) is a building reserved for spiritual rituals and activities such as prayer and sacrifice. Religions which erect te ...

Parthenon
, on the
Acropolis An acropolis (Ancient Greek: ἀκρόπολις, ''akropolis''; from ''akros'' (άκρος) or ''akron'' (άκρον), "highest, topmost, outermost" and ''polis'' (πόλις), "city"; plural in English: ''acropoles'', ''acropoleis'' or ''acropol ...

Acropolis
in Athens and transferred them to the UK. In 1816 these masterpieces of western art were acquired by The British Museum by Act of Parliament and deposited in the museum thereafter. The collections were supplemented by the
Bassae Bassae ( la, Bassae, grc, Βάσσαι - ''Bassai'', meaning "little vale in the rocks") is an archaeological site in Oichalia, a municipality in the northeastern part of Messenia Messenia or Messinia ( ; el, Μεσσηνία ) is a regio ...

Bassae
frieze from
Phigaleia Phigalia or Phigaleia or Phigalea ( grc, Φιγαλεία or ΦιγαλέαSo in Polybius, ''The Histories (Polybius), The Histories, iv. 3. or Φιγάλεια or ΦιγαλίαSo in Pausanias (geographer), Pausanias), also known as Phialia (Φι ...
,
Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, Elláda, ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeastern Europe Southeast Europe or Southeastern Europe () is a geographical subregion A subregion is a part of a larger region In geogr ...

Greece
in 1815. The Ancient Near Eastern collection also had its beginnings in 1825 with the purchase of
Assyria Assyria (), also called the Assyrian Empire, was a Mesopotamia Mesopotamia ( grc, Μεσοποταμία ''Mesopotamíā''; ar, بِلَاد ٱلرَّافِدَيْن ; syc, ܐܪܡ ܢܗܪ̈ܝܢ, or , ) is a historical region of We ...

Assyria
n and
Babylonia Babylonia () was an and based in central-southern which was part of Ancient Persia (present-day and ). A small -ruled state emerged in 1894 BCE, which contained the minor administrative town of . It was merely a small provincial town dur ...
n antiquities from the widow of
Claudius James Rich Claudius James Rich (28 March 1787 – 5 October 1821) was a United Kingdom, British business agent, traveller and antiquarian scholar. Biography Rich was born near Dijon "of a good family", but passed his childhood at Bristol. Early on, he deve ...

Claudius James Rich
. In 1802 a buildings committee was set up to plan for expansion of the museum, and further highlighted by the donation in 1822 of the
King's Library The King's Library was one of the most important collections of books and pamphlets of the Age of Enlightenment The Age of Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason or simply the Enlightenment); ger, Aufklärung, "Enlightenment"; i ...
, personal library of King George III's, comprising 65,000 volumes, 19,000
pamphlet A pamphlet is an unbound book A book is a medium for recording information Information is processed, organised and structured data Data (; ) are individual facts, statistics, or items of information, often numeric. In a more te ...

pamphlet
s, maps, charts and topographical drawings. The
neoclassical Neoclassical or neo-classical may refer to: * Neoclassicism or New Classicism, any of a number of movements in the fine arts, literature, theatre, music, language, and architecture beginning in the 17th century ** Neoclassical architecture, an arc ...
architect,
Sir Robert Smirke Sir Robert Smirke (1 October 1780 – 18 April 1867) was an English architect, one of the leaders of Greek Revival architecture, though he also used other architectural styles. As architect to the Board of Works, he designed several major pub ...
, was asked to draw up plans for an eastern extension to the museum "... for the reception of the Royal Library, and a Picture Gallery over it ..." and put forward plans for today's quadrangular building, much of which can be seen today. The dilapidated Old Montagu House was demolished and work on the
King's Library The King's Library was one of the most important collections of books and pamphlets of the Age of Enlightenment The Age of Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Reason or simply the Enlightenment); ger, Aufklärung, "Enlightenment"; i ...
Gallery began in 1823. The extension, the East Wing, was completed by 1831. However, following the founding of the
National Gallery, London The National Gallery is an art museum in Trafalgar Square Trafalgar Square ( ) is a public square in the City of Westminster, Central London, established in the early 19th century around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. The Squar ...

National Gallery, London
in 1824,Understanding of the foundation of the
National Gallery The National Gallery is an art museum An art museum is a building or space for the display of art, usually from the museum's own Collection (artwork), collection. It might be in public or private ownership and may be accessible to all or h ...

National Gallery
is complicated by the fact that there is no documented history of the institution. At first the National Gallery functioned effectively as part of the British Museum, to which the
trustee Trustee (or the holding of a trusteeship) is a legal term {{Short pages monitor 1753 establishments in England Archaeological museums in London Art museums and galleries in London Asian art museums Charities based in London Cultural infrastructure completed in 1847 Cultural infrastructure completed in 2000 Egyptological collections in London Exempt charities History of museums Georgian architecture in London Grade I listed buildings in the London Borough of Camden Grade I listed museum buildings Greek Revival architecture in the United Kingdom Horological museums in the United Kingdom Mesoamerican art museums Museums in the London Borough of Camden Museums of ancient Greece in the United Kingdom Museums of ancient Rome in the United Kingdom Museums of Ancient Near East Museums established in 1753 Museums sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Non-departmental public bodies of the United Kingdom government Numismatic museums in the United Kingdom Robert Smirke (architect) buildings Neoclassical architecture in London Buildings and structures in Bloomsbury