V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum)
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Housing the largest collection of decorative arts in the world, the V&A is home to more than two and a half million objects.
Founded in 1852 with the profits of the Great Exhibition, the V&A museum 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, Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Among them are more than 10,000 paintings, as well as a range of furniture, ceramics, textiles, glassware, photographs, sculpture and ironwork, prompting Sir Roy Strong to term the museum 'an extremely capacious handbag'.
The V&A was awarded the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2016. Stephen Deuchar, chair of the judges and director of the Art Fund, said: ‘The V&A experience is an unforgettable one. Its recent exhibitions, from Alexander McQueen to The Fabric of India, and the opening of its new Europe 1600–1815 galleries, were all exceptional accomplishments – at once entertaining and challenging, rooted in contemporary scholarship, and designed to reach and affect the lives of a large and diverse national audience.
'It was already one of the best-loved museums in the country: this year it has indisputably become one of the best museums in the world.'
Watch the V&A's Museum of the Year film:
With 18 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 offering a comprehensive overview of its materials.
An ongoing programme of refurbishment and redisplay has resulted in several new spaces, all created by leading designers. The most recent of these are the seven Europe 1600–1815 galleries which opened in December 2015, bringing together 1,100 historic objects from across the continent.
Art Funded works
There are more than 100 Art Funded works in the V&A collections, including paintings by Constable, Turner and Gainsborough, ceramics by Edmund de Waal and tapestries by William Morris.
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.
In 2015 the Art Fund supported the acquisition of The Wolsey Angels, originally commissioned by Henry VIII's chief advisor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, to adorn his tomb. After he fell out of favour with the monarch, Wolsey's belongings were appropriated by Henry and the statues disappeared into the unknown. Following separate rediscoveries of two pairs of the angels in 1994 and 2008, they are now reunited in the V&A collection.
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 implied when it described it as an 'an ace caff with quite a nice museum attached'. Victorian maxims celebrating the pleasures of eating and drinking can be seen above the windows in the Gamble Room.
Opened in 2005, the John Madejski Garden occupies the museum's central courtyard. As well as an informal café and sunken water-feature, the garden plays host to temporary sculpture exhibitions, as well as an annual contemporary design showcase.