Evolution of the Modern Museum
The path for the currently prevalent modern form of museums was laid by the Ashmolean Museum set up in the University of Oxford that was open to the public. The earliest versions of public museums were however, accessible only to the middle and upper classes with rare chances of gaining an access at all.
An idea of this exclusivity can be gained by the fact that potential visitors to the British Museum had to apply for admission and only small groups were allowed to enter on any given day. The British Museum had gained immense popularity which caused people across all ages and social classes would vie for a chance to visit it especially on public holidays. The exclusivity was maintained with the fear of larger groups of visitors causing damage to the exhibits that were showcased in the museum.
The Louvre Museum in Paris was opened in 1793 during the French Revolution, the first ever public museum in France. The museum was the first of its kind to offer unrestricted access to the collections of the former royals for people across classes, status, and standing in the society. The gates to these intriguing treasures were opened up for the public at large for three days out of their 10 day unit. This treasure was further enriched as Napoleon acquired new artworks with each of his new conquests. After his defeat the treasures were returned but his concept of a museum as an impetus of patriotic commitment made a great impact all over Europe. The opening of such public museums signified an important phase in greater public access to the world of art and the ritualistic reassigning of ownership to a republican state.
This concept however was not new to the European art world. The building that is today occupied by Prado in Madrid was built long before the French Revolution and was used to showcase sections of the royal art collection. Similar institutions or galleries were built in Vienna, Munich and other European capitals too. This, however was not so in case of Great Britain, where the Royal Art Collections remained under private ownership of the royalty. The first such gallery was set up in 1814, Dulwich Picture Gallery which was followed by the establishment of the National Gallery that was opened to the public in 1824.
It was only in the late 19th and early 20th century that the American museums reached a comparable status of the European museums as global leaders in creation and dissemination of new knowledge in theor very own areas of specialized interest. Due to an intense phase of intellectual and physical museum building this period was nicknamed “The Museum Period” or “The Museum Age”. Though many of these museums were established with an intent and interest to focus on showcasing the natural and artistic histories and evolution in North America. This focus however was later expanded to include the evolution of art and natural histories of a more global nature.