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Housing the largest collection of decorative arts in the world, the Victoria and Albert Museum is home to more than four million objects.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Victoria and Albert images
Founded in 1852 with the profits of the Great Exhibition, the V&A forms part of 'Albertopolis', Kensington's Victorian cultural quarter that also incorporates the Natural History Museum and the Royal Albert Hall.
Described by original Director Sir Henry Cole as 'a refuge for destitute collections', an institution for which his fondest hope was that it would 'furnish a powerful antidote to the gin palace', the museum has since grown in size and stature to span 5,000 years of art, housing items from Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa.
Collections include more than 10,000 paintings, as well as furniture, textiles, glassware and ironwork, prompting Sir Roy Strong to term the museum 'an extremely capacious handbag'.
With eighteen major collections housed within its 154 galleries, the V&A defies any internal hierarchies. Grouped into four departments, Asia; Furniture, Textiles and Fashion; Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics and Glass; and Word and Image, instruments jostle with outfits, portraits with papyri, with each collection offers a comprehensive overview of its materials.
Comprising around 60,000 objects, the museum's South and South-East Asian collection is one of the largest in the West. Extending from Afghanistan to Indonesia, its materials range from Indian film posters and ephemera to an exceptional collection of Mughal miniatures and decorative objects. Revered among these for its intricate craftsmanship is Shah Jahan's Jade Cup. Dating from 1657 AD, the cup's radiant white opalescence is matched by the smooth ambiguity of its carved lines. The collection is also home to one of the V&A's most bizarre and beloved of exhibits: Tippoo's Tiger. An 18th-century Indian automaton, it depicts an almost life-size wooden tiger mauling a prostrate European figure. The mechanical organ within simulates the tiger's growls as well as the moans of his victim.
Superbly refurbished in 2009, the V&A's Medieval and Renaissance collections now occupy ten continuous galleries and provide the most comprehensive collection of Italian Renaissance sculpture outside Italy. Treasures of these collections include the 12th-century Gloucester Candlestick, with a menagerie of men and creatures clambering up its minutely-wrought foliage to reach the light above, and Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks.
The V&A opened the Dr Susan Weber Gallery on 1 December 2012, providing a permanent home for the Museum’s internationally renowned furniture collection. Designed by NORD Architecture, the gallery contains more than 200 outstanding pieces of British and European furniture, from the Middle Ages to the present day, as well as examples of American and Asian furniture and will examine in detail the range of materials and techniques employed for each piece.
RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections These Collections are part of what are in effect the national collections for architecture, the RIBA's British Architectural Library, other parts of which are at 66, Portland Place, London W1B 1AD.
Art Funded works
With more than 100 Art Fund works among its collections, the V&A is one of the Fund's larger beneficiaries. Objects range from ceramics and furniture to sculpture and paintings by Constable, Turner and Cotman.
Immediately recognisable in image and reproduction, Antonio Canova's neoclassical marble sculpture of Zeus's daughters, The Three Graces, was nearly lost from the UK when it was acquired by the Getty Museum in 1994. The Art Fund was able to help secure it, and it is now shared between the V&A and the National Galleries of Scotland.
As befits the first museum in the world to provide a public restaurant, the V&A's main café still offers an appropriately august dining experience, although perhaps not quite at the level that Saatchi & Saatchi's notorious 1988 ad campaign for the V&A, 'An ace caff with quite a nice museum attached' suggested. Housed once again in the museum's original Refreshment Rooms (designed to showcase no less than the gamut of contemporary design theory to visitors) the café offers a selection of freshly prepared hot and cold meals, as well as providing London's most ornate setting for a cup of tea. Look out for the Victorian maxims celebrating the pleasures of eating and drinking above the windows in the Gamble Room.
Opened in 2005, the John Madejski Garden occupies the Museum's central courtyard. Designed by Kim Wilkie, it boasts an informal and shady outdoor café in the summer as well as a sunken water-feature. The garden also plays host to temporary sculpture exhibitions, as well as the museum's annual contemporary design showcase.