British Museum

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Founded in 1753, the British Museum’s remarkable collection spans over two million years of human history. Enjoy a unique comparison of the treasures of world cultures under one roof, centred around the magnificent Great Court.

World-famous objects such as the Rosetta Stone, Parthenon sculptures, and Egyptian mummies are visited by up to six million visitors per year. In addition to the vast permanent collection, the museum’s special exhibitions, displays and events are all designed to advance understanding of the collection and cultures they represent.

Venue Type:


Opening hours

Museum galleries are open daily 10.00–17.30, and most are open until 20.30 on Fridays. Closing starts from 17.20 (20.20 on Fridays).

Closed: 24-26 December
1 January
Good Friday

The Museum is closed on 1 January and 24, 25, 26 December.

Admission charges

Admission is free to all visitors. Charges may apply for special exhibitions and events.

Collection details

Archaeology, Archives, Coins and Medals, Costume and Textiles, Decorative and Applied Art, Fine Art, Medicine, Music, Science and Technology, Social History, Weapons and War, World Cultures

Exhibition details are listed below, you may need to scroll down to see them all.

Maggi Hambling – Touch: works on paper

  • 8 September 2016 — 29 January 2017 *on now

This exhibition presents an important survey of works on paper that traces Maggi Hambling’s engagement with drawing throughout her career. It includes work from the British Museum’s collection, loans from the National Portrait Gallery and Tate, and rarely seen work from private collections and the artist’s studio.

One of Britain’s foremost contemporary artists, Hambling is perhaps best known for her compelling portraits, paintings of the sea, and her celebrated and controversial public sculpture, including A Conversation with Oscar Wilde (1998) and Scallop (2003). Less familiar, but equally significant, are her dynamic and sensuous works on paper. Forging an immediate and powerful connection with the subject being drawn, the concept of ‘touch’ pervades these works, distilling the themes of life and death that underscore her art. This exhibition presents over 40 works on paper, many of which are on show for the first time.

‘I believe the subject chooses the artist, not vice versa, and that subject must then be in charge during the act of drawing in order for the truth to be found. Eye and hand attempt to discover and produce those precise marks which recreate what the heart feels. The challenge is to touch the subject, with all the desire of a lover.’ Maggi Hambling

A comprehensively illustrated book, the first to focus specifically on the range and impact of Hambling’s works on paper, is published by Lund Humphries to coincide with the exhibition.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


French portrait drawings: from Clouet to Courbet

  • 8 September 2016 — 29 January 2017 *on now

See over 65 portraits by French artists spanning four centuries, from the early drawings of Jean Clouet (1480–1541) and his son François (c. 1510–1572) to the exquisite drawings of the Realist Gustave Courbet (1819–1877).

The British Museum has a remarkable collection of French portrait drawings, including examples by the most celebrated artists – from Clouet, Watteau and Ingres to Fantin-Latour, Courbet and Toulouse-Lautrec. Many have not been widely displayed, so this exhibition is a chance to see beautiful, rarely seen works. The exhibition illustrates the development of portrait drawing from the Valois and Bourbon kings to the upheavals of the Revolution, Napoleon’s Empire and beyond.

Drawing was a more informal medium than official painted portraits. Drawn portraits were intended for circulation among friends or family of the sitter, rather than a wider public. Many of the portraits also demonstrate a range of experimentation and innovation. Drawings were cheaper to produce than oil paintings, sculptures or medals, and allowed the artist greater creative freedom, often for preparatory studies.

This exhibition begins in the 16th century with Clouet’s portrait series commissioned by Henri II’s queen, Catherine de’ Medici. Psychologically penetrating as well as artistically beautiful, these previously unexhibited portraits give a strikingly intimate glimpse of figures at the Renaissance French court. Later on, artists turned to the medium of chalk or watercolour to represent members of their own families, such as Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune’s portrait of his infant daughter, or Albert Lebourg’s striking portrait of his wife and mother-in-law from around 1879.

The 18th-century works include famous sitters such as Marie-Antoinette and Leopold Mozart performing with his children Wolfgang and Marie-Anne. The exhibition also includes examples of original and creative ways of approaching portraiture, such as Pierre Dumonstier’s playful ‘portrait’ of the artist Artemisia Gentileschi’s hand, drawn in 1625, or Henri Fantin-Latour’s self-portrait studies from 1876, which show the artist seen from behind – a portrait without a face. The section focusing on 19th-century artists features Ingres’s splendid portrait of Sir John Hay and his sister Mary, made in 1816, Toulouse-Lautrec’s dynamic portrait of Marcelle Lender, drawn in 1894, and the confident self-portrait by Gustave Courbet.

The drawings, selected from the Museum’s unparalleled collection, are complemented by portraits in other media, including prints, medals, enamels and an onyx cameo. Together they illustrate the development of French portrait drawing from the Renaissance until the 19th century.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


Shadow puppet theatre from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand

  • 8 September 2016 — 29 January 2017 *on now

Discover the British Museum’s collection of shadow theatre puppets from Southeast Asia. Learn how shadow theatre has been produced and performed, and find out how shadow puppet imagery is reused in the region.

Shadow puppet theatre is found in many societies. Puppets, normally carved from animal hide and painted on both sides, are placed between a light source and a white cloth screen, with audiences watching the performance from both sides. This art form has historically been a significant part of the artistic, spiritual, social and political lives of many Southeast Asians, and has retained its appeal even in recent decades, when television, film and the internet have become increasingly available.

Shadow theatre performances are often associated with life-changing and ritual events, and puppets can be viewed as sacred objects. In shadow theatre, old and new stories are presented to audiences with puppets representing the universe from deities to demons, traders to royalty. Clowns provide humour through verbal and visual jokes and make the stories topical to local spectators.

The exhibition draws on the Museum’s unique collection of Southeast Asian shadow puppets. See Javanese puppets from around 1800 collected by Sir Stamford Raffles – the earliest systematic collection of puppets in the world. The show also features puppets from Kelantan in Malaysia made by two innovative puppeteers in the mid-20th century, Balinese puppets gifted to Queen Elizabeth II, and a set of modern Thai shadow puppets from the 1960s and 70s. Through these objects, see how shadow puppet theatre is a living art form that still responds to the times.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


Defacing the past: damnation and desecration in imperial Rome

  • 13 October 2016 — 7 May 2017 *on now

Discover Roman history from a different perspective. This display presents coins and other objects that were defaced, either to condemn the memory of deceased Roman emperors or to undermine the power of living ones.

Like many rulers, Roman emperors used inscriptions, sculptures and coins to project their authority. But the imperial image could be outraged and subverted for political and religious reasons. The memory of Roman emperors and high-ranking officials could be officially condemned after their death through a process known as ‘damnatio memoriae’, meaning that a person’s memory was attacked and largely erased. This was particularly true if rulers were overthrown or executed. Their names were erased and their portraits defaced. Imperial images were also mutilated and destroyed by Rome’s enemies to contest the imperial authority.

The display features a selection of coins, inscriptions, sculptures and papyri that show images and symbols of power being subverted in antiquity. It also includes examples from Egypt, Mesopotamia and Greece, showing that the Romans were continuing a long tradition of desecration of rulers.

From Sejanus in the rule of Tiberius to the decadent Caligula and Nero, and from the disastrous Domitian and Commodus to the soldier emperors of the later empire, follow Roman history from the view of the defacer.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


South Africa: 3 million years of art

  • 27 October 2016 — 26 February 2017 *on now

From the earliest examples of human curiosity and creativity to cutting-edge contemporary works, discover the fascinating history of South Africa through art.

In this exhibition a diverse range of art from across the ages tells a story that stretches back to the Early Stone Age. From rock art made by the country’s earliest peoples to works by South African artists at the forefront of contemporary art, the exhibition features beautiful and important works, which illustrate South Africa’s rich history.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


Adults £12, under 16s free


The American Dream: pop to the present

  • 9 March — 18 June 2017

The past six decades have been among the most dynamic and turbulent in US history, from JFK’s assassination, Apollo 11 and Vietnam to the AIDS crisis, racism and gender politics. Responding to the changing times, American artists produced prints unprecedented in their scale and ambition.

Starting with the explosion of pop art in the 1960s, the exhibition includes works by the most celebrated American artists. From Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg to Ed Ruscha, Kara Walker and Julie Mehretu – all boldly experimented with printmaking. Experience this extraordinary history through their eyes.

Taking inspiration from the world around them – billboard advertising, global politics, Hollywood and household objects – American artists created highly original prints to rival their paintings and sculptures. Printmaking brought their work to a much wider and more diverse audience.

The sheer inventiveness and technical ingenuity of their prints reflects America’s power and influence during this period. Many of these works also address the deep divisions in society that continue to resonate with us today – there are as many American dreams as there are Americans.

This exhibition presents the Museum’s outstanding collection of modern and contemporary American prints for the first time. These will be shown with important works from museums and private collections around the world.

Suitable for

  • Family friendly


Adult: £16.50
Student/Unwaged/16-18/Disabled: £13
National Art Pass: £8.25
Under 16s and disabled persons' carers free


Events details are listed below. You may need to scroll down or click on headers to see them all. For events that don't have a specific date see the 'Resources' tab above.

Babel, babbling and the British Museum

  • 26 November 2041 1:15-2pm

A gallery talk by Irving Finkel, British Museum.

Gallery talks last 45 minutes.

They are given by Museum staff or guest speakers and are suitable for all levels of knowledge.



Resources listed here may include websites, bookable tours and workshops, books, loan boxes and more. You may need to scroll down or click on headers to see them all.

British Museum Webquests

Webquests are online activities for children, using the collections of nine national museums and galleries.

British Museum
Great Russell Street
Greater London





020 7323 8299

All information is drawn from or provided by the venues themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.