Collection of the week: Museums

Collections Crossover: Museums

Apparently, around a third of adults in Britain visit at least one museum every year. Whether it's a quick stroll round your favourite gallery during a lunch break, or a special trip to a must-see blockbuster exhibition, visiting museums is an enjoyably edifying way to learn at your leisure. And since museums are such an ingrained part of our cultural life, we thought it was time to feature them in a newsletter, both from a historical perspective and as a reminder of the various museum collections we represent.

It seems appropriate that among those we represent is the Ashmolean in Oxford, the world's first public museum, founded by the intellectual and polymath Elias Ashmole in 1683 to house and share the eclectic collection of objects, artefacts and curiosities he amassed and donated to the University of Oxford in 1677. You can view some edited highlights here.

Following on from the Ashmolean, other collectors began to open museums so that they too might share their treasures with others. An early museum pioneer was Ashton Lever whose huge collection of seashells and other natural curiosities were housed in the exotically-named Holophusicon in Leicester Square; although it was eventually absorbed into other museums when Lever's obsessive collecting led to bankruptcy.

The surgeon anatomist John Hunter was another eighteenth century collector, whose legacy is the Hunterian Museum while visitors to the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly during the Regency period, could marvel at the extraordinary wonders in Bullock's Museum. These, and other museums, notably the British Museum which opened in 1759 (but moved into its present site in 1857) quenched the public's thirst for knowledge, and provided the opportunity to see and experience art, antiquities, sculpture and aspects of the natural world that we perhaps take for granted in the modern era. This 'curated' selection offers some highlights of the role museums have played in public life through the years, both in the UK and overseas. It also includes modern examples from Manuel Cohen's vast photographic archive of museum buildings and artefacts from around the world; his most recent depict an array of Viking objects from the Swedish History Museum.

As a historical specialist, it is probably no surprise that among our various contributors, we can list a number of museums, both national institutions and those with a more specific focus. Not only do we represent the oldest museum (the Ashmolean) but also the most-visited - the Natural History Museum. The 15,000 images we have from the NHM include animals, botanical illustrations and geological specimens as well as plenty of material documenting the museum's magnificent building and its history. In addition to this we can offer images from the collections of the Museum of the Home (domestic life and interiors), Historic Royal Palaces (regal places and objects), Castle Howard (art and prints), National Museums Northern Ireland (fine art plus Titanic material), Bruce Castle Museum (social history with a focus on London), the National Army Museum (conflict, battles, military life), Brooklands Museum (motoring and motor racing), and, across the Pond, the Museum of the City of New York (which speaks for itself!). You can explore these different collections and more via our very handy collections page here.

We hope this week's newsletter has appealed to all culture vultures out there. If you need help with a picture search, a quote or have any other questions about using our library, please do get in touch. Our email is or you can call us on 020 8318 0034.

Mary Evans Picture Library Ltd.  59 Tranquil Vale  Blackheath  London  SE3 0BS. United Kingdom.
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