The British Museum
Colour lithographpublished 1 May 1852
About the work
This view shows the newly constructed building for the British Museum in London, designed by neoclassical architect Robert Smirke (1780-1867). The building is seen from Great Russell Street, along which carts, carriages and pedestrians travel.
The British Museum first opened to the public on 15 January 1759 at Montagu House in Bloomsbury, the site of the current building. Architect Robert Smirke was commissioned to design an extension to the existing museum and a new quadrangular building. Smirke produced his designs between 1823 and 1846. The new museum buildings were constructed between 1846 and 1852 under the supervision of the architect’s brother, Sydney Smirke, who also designed the round reading room (1854-75). This print was issued in celebration of Smirke’s newly completed museum.
The print was published by the lithographic firm of Day & Son, which began as Day & Haghe and is best-known for publishing David Roberts's ‘The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt & Nubia’ (1842-49), the most ambitious lithographic work ever published in England. A number of assistants were required to prepare more than 600 lithographic stones for the project. Partners William Day and Louis Haghe built up a team of skilled artists and lithographers which included, among several others, Edmund Walker and William Simpson.
About the artist
Watercolourist and painter William Simpson was born in Glasgow, the son of a marine engineer and mechanic. He trained as a lithographer under David Macfarlane and later Allan and Ferguson, and also studied at the Glasgow School of Design. In 1851 he moved to London to work for the lithographers Day & Son. He was sent to cover the Crimean War in 1854, after which he became known as ‘Crimean Simpson’. In 1866 he became an artist for the ‘Illustrated London News’, travelling in India, Russia and Afghanistan, and covering several major military campaigns of the 19th century. In 1874 he became a member of the Institute of Painters in Watercolour. He was also an amateur archaeologist and a prolific writer. Simpson died in London, aged 75.
Edmund Walker began as a miniature painter on ivory, abandoning the practice as photography grew in popularity. He then turned to architectural draughtsmanship, making sketches of country seats and selling them to the owners. His views of the Thames Embankment (completed 1870) were exhibited at the Royal Academy, as were many of his architectural drawings. Sometime before 1851 he began working for the publishers Day & Son. He made watercolour views and lithographs of the interiors of the Great Exhibition and lithographed William Simpson’s sketches of the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny for the firm. He reportedly ‘never fully recovered’ from the effect of the failing fortunes of Day & Son, late in his career. Walker died in 1882, aged 68.