SMIRKE, Robert the Younger
(b. 1781, Wigton, d. 1867, London)

Exterior view

British Museum, London

The greatest effect of the Greek Revival movement was felt in the new public buildings of the fast-growing cities. In this case, monumental temple forms were intended to express dignity and authority in governmental buildings, or learning and intellectual grandeur in cultural institutions.

The Greek Revival proved particularly suitable for museum structures. In England, the most prominent representative of these new temples of the arts is the British Museum in London. It was constructed to house the collections of Greek sculptures acquired by the state from 1805. In addition, it acquired the royal library, which George IV made over to the nation in 1823, establishing the basis for what has now become the British Library. Robert Smirke began the now greatly extended complex in the same year.

The massive central façade features a colonnade of fluted Ionic columns topped by a carved triangular pediment. The wings, which continue the Ionic colonnade, just outward, creating a U-shaped façade with a small courtyard entrance into the museum.

The British Museum was established in 1753 with the vast art and curiosity collection of Sir Hans Sloane, and the museum went on to become a public museum with a comprehensive collection that served to catapult London to international stature in the art world. Smirke's building was a grand statement of British nationalism and historical interest.

The photo shows the entrance façade of the British Museum designed in 1823.