The Egyptian Sculpture Gallery on the introduction of the electric light, an engraving

Published in the Illustrated London News, February 1890

Until the late nineteenth century The British Museum was lit by natural daylight. Candles, oil lamps and gas lamps were not used in the galleries for fear of fire. The first home of the Museum, Montagu House, was replaced by a much larger building between 1823 and 1852, which was designed with roof lights in all the new exhibition galleries. Although a great improvement, the Museum was often forced to close early due to poor light in winter or during a London fog.

As a response to this, the Museum was one of the first public buildings in London to install electricity. In 1879 experimental electric lighting was provided in the Front Hall, the Round Reading Room and in the Forecourt. Although this early lighting system was unreliable, the Reading Room was able to stay open until 7 p.m. during the winter. Within ten years an improved system had been extended to most of the public areas.

This engraving from the Illustrated London News shows guests at a private evening view of the Egyptian Sculpture Gallery, then recently transformed by the electric light.

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More information


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


Height: 200.000 mm
Width: 230.000 mm

Museum number

Archives CE115/4/23/1


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