Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum (RAMM) has been awarded the £100,000 Art Fund Prize for its £24 million transformation.
Judges praised the museum’s “ambition and imagination” after it dramatically reinterpreted its display of more than a million objects from taxidermy to modern art.
The RAMM, which was established in memory of Queen Victoria’s husband in 1868, was crowned Museum of the Year at a glittering award ceremony on Tuesday evening attended by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Lord Chris Smith, who chaired the judging panel, described the museum as a “magical place”.
“Every exhibit delights with a new surprise and provokes with a new question, and at a time when local authority museums in particular are in such danger, this brilliant achievement proves how daring, adventurous and important such institutions can be,” Lord Smith added.
Last year the prize went to the British Museum for a ground-breaking collaboration with the BBC.
The Clore Award for Museum Learning 2012 was presented to two joint winners - Whitworth Art Gallery and Leicestershire County Council Heritage and Arts Service - which each took home £10,000.
The double award was made in recognition of the high quality of the shortlisted museum learning programmes for children and young people.
The annual prizes follow hot on the heels of the Unsung Museum Heroes scheme, which was run this year to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Art Fund Prize.
The ten heroes, people who have made a truly memorable contribution to museums and galleries, were revealed earlier this month and celebrated at an event on Tuesday before the Art Fund Prize announcement.