Victoria and Albert Museum
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Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), located in South Kensington, London, England, is one of the world's best art museums. Devoted to decorative art and design, it has a vast and diverse permanent collection of more than 6.5 million objects. Established in 1852, and later named after Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, it currently occupies about 12.5 acres, containing some 145 galleries.

The V&A collection - embracing both fine art and applied art - spans five Millennia, from ancient civilizations to the 21st century, and showcases the culture and artistic heritage of Europe, America, North Africa and Asia. The V&A's holdings of sculpture, pottery, glass, textiles, glass, ironwork, silver, precious metals, jewellery, furniture, medieval objects, prints, drawings and photographic art are among the finest and most comprehensive in the world. Highlights of the V&A collection include the world's largest holding of post-classical sculpture, the best collection of East Asian artworks in Europe, and a collection of Islamic art which ranks alongside that of the Louvre (Paris) and Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) as the largest in the world. The museum also contains the national collections of British Miniatures, watercolour paintings and work by English silversmiths, as well as the largest assembly of pictures by John Constable. Along with 17 other galleries and museums throughout Europe and the Mediterranean region, the V&A is currently participating in an online project entitled Discover Islamic Art. Further information about major shows at the V & A, see Art News Headlines.

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For collections of Muslim culture,
see: Museums of Islamic Art.

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History of the V&A

Conceived by Prince Albert, the V&A grew out of the Great Exhibition of 1851, whose profits were applied to the purchase of a site in South Kensington to house a number of museums and colleges. Opened in 1852 as the Museum of Ornamental Art, it settled in its current site in 1857.

In 1899, a new building designed by Sir Aston Webb, and opened by King Edward VII in 1909, was founded on the same site and was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum. The institution's science collections were then transferred to the nearby Science Museum. On the outbreak of World War II, much of the collection was moved to an underground site near Aldwych tube station in central London. After the war, in Autumn 1946, the museum hosted the hugely successful design exhibition entitled Britain Can Make It, in association with the Council of Industrial Design. By 1948, most of the V&A's collections had returned from storage and the museum resumed normal service. Since then, under the direction of figures like Sir Roy Strong and Elizabeth Esteve-Coll, the V&A has launched a number of quite different, occasionally experimental, cultural campaigns, designed to raise awareness of its holdings of fine art and applied art. The full name of the V&A is now: The Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Museum of Art and Design.

Permanent Collection

The Victoria & Albert Museum is divided into six basic departments: (1) Asia. (2) Furniture, Textiles, Fashion. (3) Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics, Glass. (4) Word & Image. (5) Theatre and Performance. (6) Museum of Childhood (Bethnal Green). Within these departments are the following collections.

In collaboration with the Royal Institute of British Architects, the V&A have opened the first permanent UK gallery featuring the history of architecture, complete with displays of models, photographs, elements from buildings and original drawings. Includes more than 600,000 drawings, 750,000 papers and 700,000 photographs. British architects whose work appears in the collection, include: Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor, Sir John Vanbrugh, William Kent, Inigo Jones, James Gibbs, Robert Adam, Sir William Chambers, James Wyatt, Henry Holland, John Nash, Sir John Soane, Sir Charles Barry, Charles Robert Cockerell, George Edmund Street, Richard Norman Shaw, Alfred Waterhouse, Sir Edwin Lutyens, Charles Rennie MacKintosh, Richard Rogers, and Norman Foster, among others. See Architecture: History, Styles.


The V&A's collection of Islamic art includes such highlights as: the Ardabil Carpet, a 10th century Rock crystal ewer, numerous Qur'ans incorporating exquisite calligraphy, Iznik pottery, 14th century glasswork, an extensive collection of Middle Eastern and Persian rugs and carpets, and intricate mosaic art from Constantinople (Istanbul) and Samarkand.

South and South-East Asia
The V&A's holding of Asian art comprises some 60,000 objects, including about 10,000 textile items and 6000 paintings. Highlights include: an extensive collection of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain sculpture, Mughal art including portraits, drawings, jade wine cups, gold spoons, and exquisite textiles using gold and silver thread. See: India Painting & Sculpture.

China, Japan and Korea
This collection has over 70,000 works of art. Chinese highlights include: The T.T. Tsui Gallery of Chinese art (from the Tang, Ming and Qing Dynasties) featuring Chinese lacquerware, ancient ceremonial bronzes, Chinese pottery, types of porcelain, jade carving, as well as cloisonné enamelling, and silk watercolour paintings. Highlights of the museum's collection of Japanese art include a 13th-century sculpture of Amida Nyorai, Japanese 19th century armour, steel sword blades, Suzuki Chokichi's bronze incense burner, lacquerware, porcelain including Imari, Netsuke, woodblock prints, textiles and kimonos. Its collection of Korean art includes silk embroideries and green-glazed ceramics, while the Himalayan art collection includes early Nepalese bronze sculpture, repoussé work, Tibetan scroll paintings and ritual objects.

Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka
This collection includes sculptures and precious objects made from gold, silver, bronze, stone, terracotta and ivory.

British Collections
Featuring art and design by British artists and craftspeople, these galleries cover three periods: (1) Tudor and Stuart Britain 1500–1714: covering the Renaissance, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Restoration and Baroque styles. (2) Georgian Britain 1714–1837: covering Palladianism, Rococo, Chinoiserie, Neoclassicism, Regency, and the Gothic Revival. (3) Victorian Art 1837–1901: covering the later Gothic Revival, Classical and Renaissance revivals, Aestheticism, Japanese styles, the Arts and Crafts movement and the Scottish School. Featured artists and designers include: Grinling Gibbons, Sir James Thornhill, William Kent, Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam, Josiah Wedgwood, Matthew Boulton, Eleanor Coade, John Constable, Thomas Chippendale, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, William Morris, William Burges, Charles Robert Ashbee, Christopher Dresser, James McNeill Whistler and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Furniture and Furnishings
The V&A furniture and furnishings collection contains more than 14,000 items from across Europe, including, complete rooms, musical instruments (notably a 1699 violin by Antonio Stradivari), and clocks, as well as furniture dating from the Middle Ages to the present - although most of the furniture is British and dates to between 1700 and 1900. Furniture designers featured from the 19th and 20th centuries include Ernest Gimson, Edward William Godwin, Charles Voysey, Adolf Loos and Otto Wagner, while modernists include Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer, Charles and Ray Eames, Giò Ponti, Eileen Gray and Ron Arad.

Numbering over 75,000 objects, drawn from across the world, the V&A ceramic collection includes: examples of ancient pottery, Meissen and Sèvres porcelain, a wide display of Delftware, 18th century British porcelain (Royal Doulton, Chelsea and Worcester), and the finest collection of East Asian (Chinese and Japanese) pottery and porcelain in the world, an unrivalled display of Italian maiolica, Spanish lustreware, and Iznik pottery from Turkey. Famous ceramicists and potters featured, include: Josiah Wedgwood, William Frend De Morgan, Bernard Palissy and Bernard Leach. See also Ceramic art.

The V&A jewellery collection has more than 6,000 items, from Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome; the Medieval period; the Elizabethan era, and on to the present day. In addition to exquisite items of early Christian art, it features works by jewellery designers Cartier, Peter Carl Fabergé and Lalique, Gerda Flockinger and Wendy Ramshaw.

The V&A collection of glass art contains over 6,000 items from Africa, Britain, Europe, America and Asia. As well as ancient artifacts, it encompasses Venetian and Bohemian glass, including Art Nouveau glass designs by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Émile Gallé, Art Deco exemplars by René Lalique. Designers of stained glass represented in the collection include, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82), Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) and William Morris. In addition, the collection includes work by 20th century designers like Harry Clarke, John Piper, Patrick Reyntiens, Veronica Whall and Brian Clarke.

The V&A metalwork collection consists of some 45,000 items, including decorative ironwork, bronze, silverware, pewter, brassware and enamels, as well as arms and armour. About a quarter of the items are made from silver or gold. The collection includes the oldest known item of English silver with a dated hallmark (a 1496 silver gilt beaker). See also Celtic Metalwork.

The V&A sculpture collection, consisting of some 17,000 items dating from 400 CE to 1914, is the most extensive assembly of post-classical European sculpture in the world. All types of sculpture are represented, from tomb and memorial, to portrait, garden statues, fountain sculpture and architectural decorations. It includes objects made from various types of marble, stone, wood, ivory, gesso, bronze, lead, ceramics, terracotta, alabaster and plaster.
The museum's collection of Italian sculpture from the Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical periods is the finest outside Italy. It features works by Luca della Robbia, Giovanni Pisano, Donatello, Antonio Rossellino, Andrea del Verrocchio, Andrea della Robbia, Michelangelo, Jacopo Sansovino, Alessandro Algardi, Benvenuto Cellini, Giacomo della Porta, Giambologna, Bernini and Canova. French sculptors in the collection include François Girardon, Michel Clodion, Jean-Antoine Houdon, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Auguste Rodin and Jules Dalou. Northern European sculptors featured, include: the wood-carvers Veit Stoss and Tilman Riemenschneider, Hendrick de Keyser, Jan van Schayck, Hans Daucher and Peter Flotner, Adriaen de Vries, Sébastien Slodtz, as well as British-based sculptors like Grinling Gibbons, John Michael Rysbrack, Louis-Francois Roubiliac, Sir Henry Cheere, Thomas Banks, Joseph Nollekens, Joseph Wilton, John Flaxman, Sir Francis Chantrey, John Gibson, Edward Hodges Baily, Alfred Stevens, George Frampton, and Eric Gill.

Cast Courts
Located in the sculpture wing and consisting of two large, skylighted rooms two storeys high, this display area houses hundreds of plaster casts of famous sculptures, friezes and tombs, including: a full-scale replica of Trajan's Column, replicas of Italian Renaissance sculpture and architecture, such as the immortal David sculptures by Michelangelo and Donatello.

Painting and Drawing
The V&A collection of fine art painting and drawing consists of some 1,130 British and 650 European oil paintings, 6,800 British watercolours, pastels and 2,000 miniatures. It includes the seven surviving Raphael Cartoons (designs for the Vatican's Sistine Chapel tapestries), on long term loan loan to the museum, from the British Royal Art Collection of Queen Elizabeth II. Among the many Old Masters and later famous painters represented in the collection are: Botticelli, Tintoretto, Adriaen Brouwer, Anton Raphael Mengs, Rembrandt, François Boucher, John Constable, JMW Turner, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Eugène Delacroix, Théodore Rousseau, Edgar Degas, Jean-François Millet, Paul Cezanne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones. Other famous water colourists represented include: William Gilpin, William Blake, John Sell Cotman, Paul Sandby, William Mulready, Edward Lear, and Whistler. The V & A also includes a wide range of miniature portrait painting by an extensive list of Europe's best miniaturists such as: Jean Bourdichon, Hans Holbein the Younger, Nicholas Hilliard, Isaac Oliver, Peter Oliver, Jean Petitot, Alexander Cooper, Samuel Cooper, Thomas Flatman, George Engleheart, John Smart, Richard Cosway & William Charles Ross.

In addition, the V&A holds drawings by: Albrecht Durer, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Antonio Verrio, John Russell, Angelica Kauffmann, the sculptor John Flaxman, Hugh Douglas Hamilton, Thomas Rowlandson, Thomas Girtin, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, David Wilkie, John Martin, Samuel Palmer, Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, Lord Frederic Leighton, Sir Samuel Luke Fildes and Aubrey Beardsley. Twentieth century British artists represented include: Paul Nash, Percy Wyndham Lewis, Eric Gill, Stanley Spencer, John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Lucian Freud and David Hockney.

The V&A collection of photographic images consists of some 500,000 images dating from 1839 up to the present day. It features work by photographers such as Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Gustave Le Gray, Frederick Hollyer, Samuel Bourne, Roger Fenton, Man Ray, Curtis Moffat, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ilse Bing, Bill Brandt, Cecil Beaton, Don McCullin, David Bailey, and Helen Chadwick.

Prints and Books
The Victoria and Albert museum is also home to the National Art Library, one of the world's largest libraries devoted to fine and decorative arts, which contains more than 750,000 books. Collection highlights include: the Codex Forster, notebooks by Leonardo da Vinci. The V&A print collection of 500,000 items, includes posters, greetings cards, book plates, and prints by such masters as Rembrandt, William Hogarth, Canaletto, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Matisse and Sir William Nicholson.

The V&A collection of textiles - one of the world's biggest - comprises more than 38,000 items, dating from the 1st century CE to the present. Mainly western European in origin, it includes works from across the world. Techniques and crafts represented include: weaving, quilting embroidery, lace, tapestry and carpets. Highlights include early silks from the Near East, European tapestries (notably Gobelins tapestry as well as examples from Brussels, Tournai, Beauvais, Strasbourg and Florence), and English medieval church embroidery. The collection also includes woven fabrics, and pattern books designed by the Arts and Crafts Movement leader, William Morris.

Other Departments

The V&A also runs the Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green, one of the world's largest and oldest collections of toys and childhood artifacts. Dating from the 16th century to the present day, it encompasses dolls, teddy bears, toy soldiers, train sets, puppets, rocking horses, costumes, board games, as well as some of the earliest jigsaw puzzles ever made.

Education, Research and Conservation

Itself established as one of the finest art museums in Europe, The V&A maintains an extensive series of educational programs, along with collaborative ventures with institutions across Britain. In addition, it runs a major research and conservation department for the benefit of scholars and the general upkeep of its exhibits.

Further Information

Victoria and Albert Museum
242 Brompton Road
London SW3 2BB

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