The British Museum is celebrating 255 years today (opening 15 January 1759) with a good news report recording record numbers of visitors to the gallery. 2013 saw 6.7m visits surpassing previous records of 5.9m in 2008. When the museum opened in 1759, they expected around 75 people a day to pass through the doors. Exhibits were eclectic items ranging from natural history curiosities to historical models and paintings from the Renaissance.
The busiest day of the year was Friday 16 August with 33,848 visits and July was the busiest month on record with 747,936 visits. The British Museum’s website, britishmuseum.org, saw an increase in traffic of 47% on last year reaching 19.5 million visits. During the year the Museum staged hugely popular and critically acclaimed exhibitions including Ice Age Art: arrival of the modern mind; Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum and Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art.
Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, sponsored by Goldman Sachs, was seen by over 471,000 visitors and achieved its original visitor target of 250,000 in three months of a six month run. When it opened on 28 March 2013 the exhibition had reached over 45,600 pre-booked visits through advance ticket sales and school group bookings ahead of opening, making it the most successful pre-opening exhibition of an since The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army in 2007. The Pompeii exhibition is the third most popular in the Museum’s history after Tutankhamun in 1972 (1.6million) and the First Emperor (850k). Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum was the last exhibition to be shown in the Reading Room ahead of the opening of the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery with The BP exhibition: Vikings: life and legend on 6 March 2014. Shunga closed on Sunday 5 January 2014 with over 87,893 visitors in three months. Ice Age Art closed in early June 2013 with over 90,000 visitors, a 133% increase on the original target of 40,000
Pompeii Live at the British Museum was the first live cinema event ever produced by the Museum, offering an exclusive private view of the exhibition, Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum on 18 June 2013. This unique live broadcast was shown in 281 venues across the UK from Thurso to Penzance and seen by 53,885 cinema-goers including over 13,600 school children to the unique dedicated schools event on 19 June. Pompeii at the British Museum has since been shown as a recording internationally to over 1,000 cinemas across 51 countries worldwide reaching an international audience of over 36,000. A second cinema transmission, Vikings Live from the British Museum, will be shown in over 340 cinemas across the UK on 24 April 2014 followed by a pre-recorded cinema event for schools, Vikings Adventures from the British Museum in June.
Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, said “I am delighted that so many people have visited the world collection at the British Museum in the last year. Displays onsite, loans and touring exhibitions nationally and internationally, big screen viewings and online access mean this is truly a dynamic collection that belongs to and is used by a global citizenship”.
Meanwhile Google is celebrating this momentous anniversary with a new Google doodle.