Winner of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016, 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'.
As of 30 June 2017, a major new development at the V&A, the Exhibition Road Quarter, provides the building with a new entrance, public space and purpose-built gallery. The first porcelain-tiled public courtyard in the UK, the Sackler Courtyard acts as a venue for installations and events and provides access to the new Sainsbury Gallery, one of the largest temporary exhibition spaces in the UK. From the courtyard, visitors will also be able to see previously hidden facades of the original V&A building.
The V&A was awarded the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2016.
Stephen Deuchar, chair of the judges and director of 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.'
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.