British Museum

RA Collection: People and Organisations

Founded in 1753 in response to the public bequest by Sir Hans Sloane of his collection of objects, herbarium and library. The original museum collection comprised that of Sloane together with the Cottonian and Harleian manuscript collections. George II donated the "Old Royal Library" in 1757, adding the privilege of copyright receipt.

The original stated purpose of the museum was "to promote universal understanding through the arts, natural history and science in a public museum". The museum opened to the public in 1759 in Montagu House, on the current site.

The collection expanded rapidly with the acquisition of antiquities from Egypt, Greece and Rome, culminating with the purchase of the Parthenon marbles in 1816. George IV donated George III's library in 1823, triggering a reconstruction of the museum buildings. The current museum was designed by Sir Robert Smirke, the round reading room by Sydney Smirke. The new buildings allowed freer access to the collections and the museum's public grew enormously.

In 1880 the natural history collections were moved to South Kensington to become the Natural History Museum. This coincided with further development at the museum site. Pressure on space was largely resolved in 1998 with the move of the British Library to purpose-built accommodation at St. Pancras. Sir Norman Foster then oversaw a redevelopment of the great court and round reading room, completed in 2000.

The Museum is governed by a board of Trustees, responsible to Parliament. The collections belong to the nation and admission is free.

Source: Official history,

Works associated with British Museum in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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