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Augustus Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson, The Hall and Stair Case, British Museum, an etching
First published in Rudolph Ackermann, Microcosm of London 3 vols. (1808-9), vol. 1
Montagu House was the first home of the British
Museum. When it was built in 1686, the French style of decoration
was fashionable. The walls of the Great Staircase and the ceiling
above it were painted mainly by Charles de la Fosse (1636-1716).
The painting on the ceiling illustrated a story from Greek
mythology - Phaeton asking for permission to drive the chariot of
The Great Staircase led from the Entrance Hall (which was near the site of the present-day colonnade) to a landing on the first floor. From there visitors walked through the upper rooms, where they could see some of the Museum's collections of manuscripts, medals, antiquities and natural history specimens.
At that time visitors still had to apply for tickets before they could see the Museum. They then had to go round the building in groups of no more than fifteen, with one of the Under-Librarians as a guide. (The group of people at the foot of the stairs here may be members of a party waiting to begin its tour). However, two years after the date of this picture the Principal Librarian, Joseph Planta, changed the rules. From 1810 onwards visitors did not need tickets, and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays they were free to go round the Museum by themselves. Tuesdays and Thursdays were reserved for 'select companies' - groups who wanted guided tours.
In this print the architecture was drawn and etched by Augustus Charles Pugin (1762-1832); the figures by Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) and the aquatint added by John Bluck (1791-1832).
M. Caygill and C. Date, Building the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)