Roger Fenton, The South Front, a photograph

The British Museum, London, England, AD 1857

For many people, Sir Robert Smirke's massive nineteenth-century façade in Greek Revival style epitomises the very idea of a museum. The façade was completed in 1847. Its forty-four Ionic columns were carved on the Museum site out of large blocks of Portland stone. The sculptures in the pediments were designed by Sir Richard Westmacott, and installed in 1851. The forecourt layout, designed by Smirke's younger brother Sydney, was completed the following year.

Roger Fenton (1819-1869), the Museum's first official photographer, took this photograph of the south front of the Museum early one morning in 1857. An assistant leans against one of the cast iron lamp standards, giving scale to the photograph. The south front already shows the effects of the air pollution in Victorian London. Soon after this photograph was taken a range of wooden and glass sheds were built on the colonnade to house recently excavated material from Halikarnassos. The sheds remained until 1880.

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Roger Fenton, The South Front, a photograph

Roger Fenton, The South Front of the British Museum, a photograph


More information


C. Date, 'Photographer on the roof', British Museum Society Bulle-1, 61 (Summer 1989)

M. Caygill and C. Date, Building the British Museum (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)

C. Date and A. Hamber, 'The origins of photography at the British Museum, 1839-1860', History of Photography, 14: 4 (1990)


Width: 443.000 mm
Height: 330.000 mm

Museum number

Archives CE114/652

Gift of The British Museum Friends


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