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Gallery of Bronzes in the Naples Museum (ca. 1865-1895) (via Cornell University Library) (here’s how it looks now)

Museums have to change, they’re not time capsules. But there’s something about the cluttered aesthetic of the 19th century that is definitely missed even if, sure, context and history could play second chair to spectacle. But what beautiful spectacles, and through the great archive that is the internet, we can glimpse into those lost galleries even if we can’t wander inside. Here are some views into museum galleries that were so amazing it’s crazy that they’re gone, but for reasons of updating spaces, moving collections, or reimagining a museum’s identity, they are no more.

Archaeological Museum in Mexico City (ca. 1885-1895) (via Cornell University Library) (here’s how it looks now)

Mini-gallery of taxidermy in the Field Museum, Chicago (1899) (via The Field Museum Library)

Museum of Natural History in Raleigh, North Carolina (ca. 1950s-1960s) (via State Archives of North Carolina) (here’s how it looks now as the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, although if that’s the same whale, he’s had some skull breaking accidents)

University of Nebraska State Museum (1925) (via UNSM Archives) (look that those skeleton legs!)

Hall of Sculpture of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (via Museum of the City of New York/NYPL) (this seems to be the current main entrance hall)

Jade Room of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, (ca. 1905-1915) (via New York Public Library) (what on earth happened to the Jade Room and why can we not go there anymore??)

Art Gallery at Vassar College photograph by G.W. Pach (1875) (via New York Public Library) (the current Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is much more subdued)

Private Residential Museum, Karikal Thotti, Mysore Palace (1890s) (via merepix.com)

The Montagu House, first home of the British Museum, in a painting by George Scharf (1845) (via Stubbs Family) (sadly, the giraffes are no longer on display in the new museum, but were moved to South Kensington)

The Egyptian sculpture gallery at the British Museum (1890), from Illustrated London News (via British Museum) (this image was to commemorate them getting electric light, and the engraving may have been a bit exaggerated for size, if this is one of the heads on the left)

Egyptian Gallery of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (1906-1920) (via Library of Congress) (this is now the Brooklyn Museum)

Brooklyn Museum gallery of early American paintings (1907) (via Brooklyn Museum)

Astronomical gallery in the South Kensington Museum (1909) (via Science Museum London) (the South Kensington Museum has since divided into Science Museum London and the V&A Museum)

Marine Museum in Minnesota (via Library of Congress)

Animal Curiosities gallery in the Smithsonian (1872) (via Smithsonian Institution) (alas, no more “animal curiosities” exhibition in the Smithsonian, but the goundsloth seems to still be around)

Salle d’Auguste in the Louvre (1895) (via antiquaprintgallery.com) (it’s still pretty impressive, although less focus on Augustus)

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

5 replies on “Museum Galleries So Incredible, It’s Hard to Believe They’re Gone”

  1. While the NC Museum of Natural History was a wonderful, whimsical place, it was also cramped, dark, and not conducive to large crowds of enthusiastic children. The pair of gorgeous four story buildings that replaced it are much better suited to serving the public, and all of the items seen in the old photo are still on display.

  2. Confirming that the Met Hall of Sculptures is indeed the Great Hall, today’s main entrance. There’s art installed every once in awhile these days, but it’s usually too crowded to be able to get a good look at anything!

  3. The Illinois State Museum (Springfield, IL) was like that in the past. It was in the Centennial Building and had nothing but ‘stones and bones’. I used to ride my bike there when I was a kid. I still love rocks, fossils and history. They have a newer museum now, with a large 3rd floor art gallery. I’m also proud to be in the collection with two photographs.

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