The Victoria and Albert Museum (often
abbreviated as the V&A), London, is the world's largest museum of
decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million
objects. It was founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince
Albert. The V&A is located in the Brompton district of the Royal Borough
of Kensington and Chelsea, in an area that has become known as "Albertopolis"
because of its association with Prince Albert, the Albert Memorial and the
major cultural institutions with which he was associated. These include the
Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Royal Albert Hall. The
museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for
Culture, Media and Sport. Like other national British museums, entrance to the
museum has been free since 2001.
The V&A covers 12.5 acres (51,000 m2) and 145 galleries. Its collection
spans 5,000 years of art, from ancient times to the present day, from the cultures
of Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. The holdings of ceramics, glass,
textiles, costumes, silver, ironwork, jewellery, furniture, medieval objects,
sculpture, prints and printmaking, drawings and photographs are among the largest
and most comprehensive in the world. The museum owns the world's largest collection
of post-classical sculpture, with the holdings of Italian Renaissance items being
the largest outside Italy. The departments of Asia include art from South Asia,
China, Japan, Korea and the Islamic world. The East Asian collections are among the
best in Europe, with particular strengths in ceramics and metalwork, while the
Islamic collection is amongst the largest in the Western world.
Since 2001, the museum has embarked on a major £150m renovation programme, which
has seen a major overhaul of the departments, including the introduction of newer
galleries, gardens, shops and visitor facilities.
These fifteen galleries - which opened in November 2001 - contain around 4,000
items. The displays in these galleries are based around three major themes:
"Style", "Who Led Taste" and "What Was New". The period covered is 1500 to 1900,
with the galleries divided into three major subdivisions:
Tudor and Stuart Britain, 1500–1714, covering the Renaissance, Elizabethan,
Jacobean, Restoration and Baroque styles
Georgian Britain, 1714–1837, covering Palladianism, Rococo, Chinoiserie,
Neoclassicism, the Regency, the influence of Chinese, Indian and Egyptian styles,
and the early Gothic Revival
Victorian Britain, 1837–1901, covering the later phases of the Gothic Revival,
French influences, Classical and Renaissance revivals, Aestheticism, Japanese
style, the continuing influence of China, India, and the Islamic world, the Arts
and Crafts movement and the Scottish School.
Not only the work of British artists and craftspeople is on display, but also work
produced by European artists that was purchased or commissioned by British patrons,
as well as imports from Asia, including porcelain, cloth and wallpaper. Designers
and artists whose work is on display in the galleries include Gian Lorenzo Bernini,
Grinling Gibbons, Daniel Marot, Louis Laguerre, Antonio Verrio, Sir James
Thornhill, William Kent, Robert Adam, Josiah Wedgwood, Matthew Boulton, Canova,
Thomas Chippendale, Pugin, William Morris.
Paintings (and Miniatures)
The collection includes about 1130 British and 650 European oil paintings, 6800
British watercolours, pastels and 2000 miniatures, for which the museum holds the
national collection. Also on loan to the museum, from Her Majesty the Queen
Elizabeth II, are the Raphael Cartoons: the seven surviving (there were ten) full
scale designs for tapestries in the Sistine Chapel, of the lives of Peter and Paul
from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. There is also on display a fresco by
Pietro Perugino dated 1522 from the church of Castello at Fontignano (Perugia) and
is amongst the painter's last works. One of the largest objects in the collection
is the Spanish tempera on wood, 670 x 486 cm, retable of St George, c. 1400,
consisting of numerous scenes and painted by Andrés Marzal De Sax in Valencia.
19th-century British artists are well represented. John Constable and J. M. W.
Turner are represented by oil paintings, water colours and drawings. One of the
most unusual objects on display is Thomas Gainsborough's experimental showbox with
its back-lit landscapes, which he painted on glass, which allowed them to be
changed like slides. Other landscape painters with works on display include Philip
James de Loutherbourg, Peter De Wint and John Ward.
In 1857 John Sheepshanks donated 233 paintings, mainly by contemporary British
artists, and a similar number of drawings to the museum with the intention of
forming a 'A National Gallery of British Art', a role since taken on by Tate
Britain; artists represented are William Blake, James Barry, Henry Fuseli, Sir
Edwin Henry Landseer, Sir David Wilkie, William Mulready, William Powell Frith,
Millais and Hippolyte Delaroche. Although some of Constable's works came to the
museum with the Sheepshanks bequest, the majority of the artist's works were
donated by his daughter Isabel in 1888, including the large number of sketches in
oil, the most significant being the 1821 full size oil sketch for The Hay Wain.
Other artists with works in the collection include: Bernardino Fungai, Marcus
Gheeraerts the Younger, Domenico di Pace Beccafumi, Fioravante Ferramola, Jan
Brueghel the Elder, Anthony van Dyck, Ludovico Carracci, Antonio Verrio, Giovanni
Battista Tiepolo, Domenico Tiepolo, Canaletto, Francis Hayman, Pompeo Batoni,
Benjamin West, Paul Sandby, Richard Wilson, William Etty, Henry Fuseli, Sir Thomas
Lawrence, James Barry, Francis Danby, Richard Parkes Bonington and Alphonse
Richard Ellison's collection of 100 British watercolours was given by his widow
in 1860 and 1873 'to promote the foundation of the National Collection of Water
Colour Paintings'. Over 500 British and European oil paintings, watercolours and
miniatures and 3000 drawings and prints were bequeathed in 1868-9 by the clergymen
Chauncey Hare Townshend and Alexander Dyce.
Several French paintings entered the collection as part of the 260 paintings and
miniatures (not all the works were French, for example Carlo Crivelli's Virgin and
Child) that formed part of the Jones bequest of 1882 and as such are displayed in
the galleries of continental art 1600–1800, including the portrait of François, Duc
d'Alençon by François Clouet, Gaspard Dughet and works by François Boucher
including his portrait of Madame de Pompadour dated 1758, Jean François de Troy,
Jean-Baptiste Pater and their contemporaries.
Another major Victorian benefactor was Constantine Alexander Ionides, who left
82 oil paintings to the museum in 1901, including works by Botticelli, Tintoretto,
Adriaen Brouwer, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Eugène Delacroix,
Théodore Rousseau, Edgar Degas, Jean-François Millet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti,
Edward Burne-Jones, plus watercolours and over a thousand drawings and prints
The Salting Bequest of 1909 included, among other works, watercolours by J. M.
W. Turner. Other watercolourists include: William Gilpin, Thomas Rowlandson,
William Blake, John Sell Cotman, Paul Sandby, William Mulready, Edward Lear, James
Abbott McNeill Whistler and Paul Cézanne.
There is a copy of Raphael's The School of Athens over 4 metres by 8 metres in
size, dated 1755 by Anton Raphael Mengs on display in the eastern Cast Court.
Miniaturists represented in the collection include Jean Bourdichon, Hans Holbein
the Younger, Nicholas Hilliard, Isaac Oliver, Peter Oliver, Jean Petitot, Alexander
Cooper, Samuel Cooper, Thomas Flatman, Rosalba Carriera, Christian Friedrich
Zincke, George Engleheart, John Smart, Richard Cosway & William Charles