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Cross-section plan of a museum of natural history

Cross-section plan of a museum of natural history

Catalogue number: WP4/5(2)

Architectural design drawn by Wallace, showing a cross section of a museum of natural history, dated 1864.

This beautiful architectural design, drawn by Wallace, is entitled 'National Museum of Natural History - Cross Section'. It was drawn in black, blue, pink and green inks. Wallace has visualised a magnificent entrance to the museum, with a public gallery and central hall space extending 60 feet (over 18 m) upwards. The total width was set at 160 feet (almost 49 m).

In the centre Wallace drew the Grand Public Gallery, to house the vertebrate collection. This immense space was dominated by a giraffe, with cetaceans (whales and dolphins) suspended from the ceiling. Wallace drew with minute attention to detail. The left and right galleries are on three levels. To the left a deer represents animals at the bottom, another large mammal is in the middle and various birds are on the top level. To the right, a primate sits in a tree at ground level, and there are birds on the middle and top levels. Wallace even included spaces for student collections and libraries, invertebrate galleries and a geology area.

The land for the South Kensington museum was purchased in 1863 and an open competition to design a new natural history museum for the site took place in 1864. It is possible that Wallace drew his plans for this competition, since he had strong opinions about the purpose of museums. Wallace wrote on the envelope in which the plans were kept that he had sent similar museum plans to Richard Owen in 1863. Richard Owen became Superintendent of the British Museum (Natural History) in 1856 and submitted his own initial plans to the Trustees in 1859.

Wallace's interest in museums endured. In 1869 Wallace published an article on Museums for the People in the Macmillan Magazine, a revised version of which appears in Wallace's 1900 book Studies Scientific and Social.

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Wallace Letters Online

Letter to Alfred Russel Wallace from the Royal Society, about his Darwin Medal award

View high resolution scans and transcripts of Alfred Russel Wallace's correspondence, including all surviving letters between him and Charles Darwin.

Explore Wallace's correspondence