Victoria & Albert Museum

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Victoria & Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum (often abbreviated as the V&A) in London is the world’s largest museum of applied arts, decorative arts, and design, housing a permanent collection of over 2.27 million objects. It was founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

The V&A covers 12.5 acres (5.1 ha) and 145 galleries. Its collection spans 5000 years of art, from ancient times to the present day, from the cultures of Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. However, the art of antiquity in most areas is not collected. 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.

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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. Overall, it is one of the largest museums in the world.

The first V&A museum outside London, V&A Dundee opened on 15 September 2018.

The Victoria & Albert Museum is split into four Collections departments:

  • Asia;
  • Furniture, Textiles and Fashion;
  • Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass;
  • Word & Image.

The museum houses the National Art Library, a public library containing over 750,000 books, photographs, drawings, paintings, and prints. It is one of the world’s largest libraries dedicated to the study of fine and decorative arts. The library covers all areas and periods of the museum’s collections with special collections covering illuminated manuscripts, rare books and artists’ letters and archives.

One of the most dramatic parts of the museum is the Cast Courts in the sculpture wing, comprising two large, skylighted rooms two storeys high housing hundreds of plaster casts of sculptures, friezes and tombs.

Ceramics and glass. This is the largest and most comprehensive ceramics and glass collection in the world, with over 80,000 objects from around the world. Every populated continent is represented.

Prints and drawings from the over 750,000 items in the collection can be seen on request at the print room, the “Prints and Drawings study Room”; booking an appointment is necessary.

The print collection has more than 500,000 items, covering: posters, greetings cards, bookplates, as well as a comprehensive collection of old master prints from the Renaissance to the present, including works by Rembrandt, William Hogarth, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Canaletto, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Henri Matisse and Sir William Nicholson.

The costume collection is the most comprehensive in Britain, containing over 14,000 outfits plus accessories, mainly dating from 1600 to the present. Costume sketches, design notebooks, and other works on paper are typically held by the Word and Image department.

In November 2012, the Museum opened its first gallery to be exclusively dedicated to furniture. The Furniture and Woodwork collection also includes complete rooms, musical instruments, and clocks.

The museum’s jewellery collection, containing over 6000 items is one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of jewellery in the world and includes works dating from Ancient Egypt to the present day, as well as jewellery designs on paper. The museum owns pieces by renowned jewellers Cartier, Jean Schlumberger, Peter Carl Fabergé, Andrew Grima, Hemmerle and Lalique.

Metalwork. This collection of more than 45,000 items covers decorative ironwork, both wrought and cast, bronze, silverware, arms and armour, pewter, brassware and enamels (including many examples Limoges enamel).

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.

Photography. The collection contains more than 500,000 images dating from the advent of photography, the oldest image dating from 1839. The gallery displays a series of changing exhibits and closes between exhibitions to allow full re-display to take place. Already in 1858, when the museum was called the South Kensington Museum, it had the world’s first international photographic exhibition.

The sculpture collection at the V&A is the most comprehensive holding of post-classical European sculpture in the world. There are approximately 22,000 objects in the collection that cover the period from about 400 AD to 1914.

The collection of textiles consists of more than 53,000 examples, mainly western European though all populated continents are represented, dating from the 1st century AD to the present, this is the largest such collection in the world.

Public transport

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TRANSPORT FOR LONDON – is a government organisation responsible for all public transport. Their website contains maps plus an excellent journey planner. The Underground is the oldest underground railway network in the world. (+ Connections map)

+ Getting around (visitlondon.com) • Transport (london.gov.uk) • Travel to and around England (visitengland.com)

 BUS >   National Express. By far the largest domestic coach operator and operates services throughout Great Britain. London’s coach hub is Victoria Coach Station (map), an Art Deco building opened in 1932.

 RAIL >   National Rail network, with 70 per cent of rail journeys starting or ending in London. + Train – Planning trip >> *Rail travel in Great Britain

 AIRPORTS >   Heathrow Airport, in Hillingdon, was for many years the busiest airport in the world for international traffic. Gatwick Airport is second airport, also serving a large spectrum of places world-wide. >> airportguides.co.uk – list of airports.

 WATERWAYS >   River boat services on the Thames known as Thames Clippers, which offers both commuter and tourist boat services. + River Transport Services.

Bicycles may be taken on car ferries and on Eurotunnel shuttle trains. Eurostar allows folding bikes on all its trains, and offers a more restricted service for other bikes, but has quite strict and specific rules that are worth reading up on before you travel.

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