British Museum celebrates a year of generosity

In 2011/12 The British Museum was fortunate to be able to acquire a wide range of objects, from the large-scale to the humble, due to the unstinting generosity of individual donors, fundraising bodies and foundations. Acquisitions include: the funding from Hamish Parker to acquire a complete set of Picasso’s Vollard Suite produced in the 1930s (currently drawing crowds to the Prints and Drawings gallery); an extraordinary set of 17th century private tokens from London which provided small change for local goods and services across the city; and the Museum’s most recent acquisition – made just last week was a donation of a pin badge commemorating the visit of Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to the UK, which shows her as a modern saint with the London Eye as a halo. All acquisitions both large and small ensure that the Museum continues to reflect world culture, both ancient and contemporary.

The British Museum

Equally important is the display of the collection. Thanks to funding from Citi the museum has been able to re-display the BM’s pre-eminent collection of coins and banknotes, presenting a significant new history of the world through the prism of currency. The opening of the gallery at a time of global financial crisis reminds us of the long history of boom and bust, bubbles and slumps. The gallery investigates the extraordinarily wide range of forms money can take and the equally extraordinary range of uses to which people have put their money over the centuries. Future galleries include a major redisplay of the gallery of early modern Europe, looking at the wider world of Sutton Hoo. This has been made possible by a generous donation from Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock. The BM’s collections on this period are among the best in the world and reach from North Africa to Scandinavia and from the Atlantic to the Asian Steppes. The new display will open in 2013/14. In addition the Museum can announce generous new funding from the Rothschild Foundation to support the re-display of the famous Waddesdon Bequest. The bequest was originally made to the Museum in 1898 and is one of the most remarkable collections of its kind, a group of almost 300 objects of medieval and renaissance jewellery, metalwork, glass and ceramics including the extraordinary Holy Thorn Reliquary and the Lyte Jewel (which will feature in the Shakespeare exhibition). The collection will be displayed in its entirety in an original Smirke designed room beyond the Enlightenment Gallery.

Funding for the Museum’s major capital project, the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre received a further £10 million funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund ensuring the project is now nearly 90% funded. Building work continues and the Centre will open in March 2014 with a major exhibition on the Vikings. The BP exhibition (working title The Viking World’) is a collaboration with the National Museum of Denmark and the Museum for Prehistory and Early History in Berlin and will emphasise the significance of the Vikings in a global context, rather than in the usual focus on northern Europe and the North Atlantic. The Viking age was a period of major change, both in terms of the Viking impact on neighbouring areas, and the introduction of external influences into Scandinavia. Viking Scandinavia was more diverse than previously recognised, and drew external influences from both Christian Europe and the Islamic World. The exhibition will explore these cultural influences, and will highlight recent reinterpretations of the Vikings. It will include major finds never seen before in the UK, including a purpose-built representation of the longest Viking ship ever found, the warship ‘Roskilde 6’. At 37m long it will incorporate the surviving elements of the ship in a framework which indicates the total size and shape of the ship, and highlights the capacity of the new exhibition space. In addition to objects from Scandinavia and the UK, the exhibition will also include finds from Russia and eastern Europe, as well as treasures from the BM’s own collection including the Vale of York hoard, found in 2007. The BM version of the exhibition will also include a section on the continued legacy of the Vikings in the UK today.

The generosity of the Dorset Foundation and money from the Art Fund Prize has supported the BM’s national programmes across the UK. A series of Spotlight Tours of single objects begins with the loan of an important sculpture of Herakles travel to Bexhill, followed by the Gayer Anderson Egyptian Cat to Shetland and the Mildenhall Great Dish to Suffolk. The Dorset Foundation has committed funds to support national activity for the next three years. This will include a major new touring exhibition which will explore the diversity of the Roman Empire and a partnership gallery at Lews Castle, Shetland. –

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