Waddesdon Bequest, The British Museum

Conservation and redisplay of collection

London & South East

The brief was to create a permanent gallery to re-display the Waddesdon Bequest, a collection of Renaissance objects bequeathed to the British Museum by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild in 1898. The new gallery is located in the Middle Room, originally a reading room for the British Library and one of the oldest surviving parts of the building.

The Waddesdon Bequest consists of important medieval and Renaissance pieces, as well as a number of 19th-century fakes, providing a fascinating picture of the development of the art market in the late 19th century.

The bowing North balcony was strengthened and straightened. This meant the cast iron bracket supporting it could be removed, returning the room to its intended geometry.

Purcell acted as Conservation Architect leading the design team, whilst also collaborating on the design of new interventions and coordinating the installation of the showcases, which were designed by independent 3D designers. The conservation philosophy was to conserve and re-use as much of the original historic fabric as possible.

The conservation and re-presentation of the Middle Room has restored the room to its former elegance. All joinery was carefully repaired and the original book press doors were reinstated. Display structures have been created so that the room could be put back to its original state if necessary. The new gallery space significantly improves the display of precious objects and is reflective of the collection’s original home, the Smoking Room at Waddesdon Manor.

Location: London
Client: The British Museum
Listing Status: Grade I, Conservation Area
Funding: The gallery is made possible through a generous donation from the Rothschild Foundation
Awards: RIBA London Award 2016