Visitors on the colonnade of the British Museum

The Great Exhibition of 1851, held at Crystal Palace in London, was the grand showcase of a nation in the middle of unparalleled technological and industrial progress. Visitor numbers to the British Museum had been rising during the 19th century, but the Great Exhibition nearby helped draw in a record 2.5 million visitors. Despite the new, larger Museum entrance completed in 1847, there were many queues.

The British Museum featured in the Illustrated London News for June 1851. This print, which accompanied the article, shows the Museum’s forecourt full of visitors. The Museum was looking very grand, with the front of the building, designed by Sir Robert Smirke (1781–1867), nearing completion. A pedimental frieze of sculpture showing ‘The Progress of Civilisation’, designed by Sir Richard Westmacott, was now in place above the massive stone columns of the colonnade. Work on the fine cast iron gates and railings was underway and was to be finished by the end of the year. Lion-headed public drinking fountains of white marble were added either side of the entrance doors in 1859, which you can still see today.

What? British Ambassador to the US Sir Peter Westmacott called me a thug and a liar in the press?! Good thing he did not say that to my face or I would have offered to shake his hand and forgive him before sucker-punching him in the goddamn throat.