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‘Long after ill health forced his retirement in August 1909, stories of his savage temper and autocratic disposition lingered in the folk memory of the museum’s staff’ (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Maunde Thompson, who was appointed Principal Librarian in 1888 (subsequently adding the title ‘and Director’) was an autocrat, his severe ideas of indecorous behaviour included failure by senior staff to wear a top hat on Museum premises and the crime by a junior of riding a bicycle in the street. He joined the Museum in 1861 and became Keeper of Manuscripts in 1878. His particular interest in medieval manuscripts is indicated by the volume on the table to his left. He was an energetic director whose aim, according to the ODNB ‘was to consolidate the Museum’s reputation as a great scholarly institution, while making its riches more accessible and intelligible to the public’.

British Museum





oil on canvas


H 116 x W 91 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

presented to the sitter by a body of subscribers, and given by the sitter to the British Museum, 1917

Work type



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British Museum

Great Russell Street, London, Greater London WC1B 3DG England

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