Room with a View

Charlotte Crow glimpses the British Museum’s new exhibition of its own original collections in the great King’s Library.

As a grand finale to the series of celebrations marking the British Museum’s 250th anniversary, the magnificent King’s Library reopens this month after a three-year, £8 million restoration programme.

The Grade I listed room, designed and built by Sir Robert Smirke in 1823-27, is one of the finest surviving examples of neo-classical architecture in London. At 300ft long and 41ft wide, it is certainly the largest. Commissioned as the first (east) wing of Smirke’s new British Museum, the Library was designed and built specifically to honour and house George IV’s gift to the nation of his father George III’s prestigious library. But after the King’s books were removed, and re-located with the rest of the British Library to dedicated premises at Euston in 1998, the room seemed devoid of purpose, a vast empty corridor through which visitors traipsed to get to the ethnographic collections.

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