Victoria and Albert Museum in London

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The Victoria and Albert Museum (often abbreviated as the V&A), set in the Brompton district of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London, England, is the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects. Named after Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, it was founded in 1852, and has since grown to cover 12.5 acre and 145 galleries. Its collection spans 5,000 years of art, from ancient times to the present day, in virtually every medium, from the cultures of Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

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 possesses the world's largest collection of post-classical sculpture, the holdings of Italian Renaissance items are 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, alongside the Musée du Louvre and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is amongst the largest in the world.

Alongside other neighbouring institutions, including the Natural History Museum and Science Museum, the V&A is located in what is termed London's "Albertopolis", an area of immense cultural, scientific and educational importance. 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. Following in similar vein to other national UK museums, entrance to the museum has been free since 2001.



The V&A has its origins in The Great Exhibition of 1851, with which Henry Cole, the museum's first director, was involved in planning; initially it was known as The Museum of Manufactures, first opening in May 1852 at Marlborough House, but by September had been transferred to Somerset House. At this stage the collections covered both applied art and science. Several of the exhibits from the Exhibition were purchased to form the nucleus of the collection. By February 1854 discussions were underway to transfer the museum to the current site and it was renamed as The South Kensington Museum. In 1855 the German architect Gottfried Semper, at the request of Cole, produced a design for the museum, but it was rejected by the Board of Trade as too expensive. The site was occupied by Brompton Park House; this was extended including the first refreshment rooms opened in 1857, the museum being the first in the world to provide such a facility. The official opening by Queen Victoria was on 22 June 1857. In the following year, late night openings were introduced, made possible by the use of gas lighting. This was to enable in the words of Cole "to ascertain practically what hours are most convenient to the working classes" — this was linked to the use of the collections of both applied art and science as educational resources to help boost productive industry. In these early years the practical use of the collection was very much emphasised as opposed to that of "High Art" at the National Gallery and scholarship at the British Museum. George Wallis(1811–1891), the first Keeper of Fine Art Collection, passionately promoted the idea of wide art education through the museum collections. This led to the transfer to the museum of The School of Design that had been founded in 1837 at Somerset House, after the transfer it was referred to as the Art School or Art Training School, later to become the Royal College of Art which finally achieved full independence in 1949. From the 1860s to the 1880s the scientific collections had been moved from the main museum site to various improvised galleries to the west of Exhibition Road. In 1893 the "Science Museum" had effectively come into existence when a separate director was appointed.

The laying of the foundation stone to the left of the main entrance of the Aston Webb building, on 17 May 1899 was the last official public appearance by Queen Victoria. It was during this ceremony that the change of name from the South Kensington Museum to the Victoria and Albert Museum was made public. London Gazette of the time ended "I trust that it will remain for ages a Monument of discerning Liberality and a Source of Refinement and Progress."

The exhibition which the Museum organised to celebrate the centennial of the 1899 renaming, "A Grand Design," first toured in North America from 1997 (Baltimore Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), returning to London in 1999. To accompany and support the exhibition, the Museum published a book, Grand Design, which it has made available for reading online on its website.


The opening ceremony for the Aston Webb building by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra took place on 26 June 1909. In 1914 the construction commenced of the Science Museum signalling the final split of the science and art collections. Since then the museum has maintained its role of one of the world's greatest decorative arts collections.

In 1939 on the outbreak of World War II, most of the collection was sent to a quarry in Wiltshire, to Montacute House in Somerset, or to a tunnel near Aldwych tube station, with larger items remaining in situ, sand-bagged and bricked in. Between 1941 and 1944 some galleries were used as a school for children evacuated from Gibraltar. The South Court became a canteen, first for the Royal Air Force and later for Bomb Damage Repair Squads.

Before the return of the collections after the War, the Britain Can Make It exhibition was held between September and November 1946, attracting nearly a million and a half visitors. This was organised by the Council of Industrial Design established by the British government in 1944 "to promote by all practicable means the improvement of design in the products of British industry". The success of this exhibition led to the planning of the Festival of Britain (1951). By 1948 most of the collections had been returned to the museum.

Since 1950

In July 1973, as part of its outreach programme to young people, the V&A became the first museum in Britain to present a rock concert. The V&A presented a combined concert/lecture by British progressive folk-rock band Gryphon, who explored the lineage of mediaeval music and instrumentation and related how those contributed to contemporary music 500 years later. This innovative approach to bringing young people to museums was a hallmark of the Directorship of Roy Strong and was subsequently emulated by some other British museums.

In the 1980s, Sir Roy Strong renamed the museum as 'The Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Museum of Art and Design'. Strong's successor Elizabeth Esteve-Coll oversaw a turbulent period for the institution in which the museum's curatorial departments were re-structured leading to public criticism from some staff. Esteve-Coll's attempts to make the V&A more accessible included a criticised marketing campaign emphasising the cafe over the collection.

In 2001, "Future Plan" was launched, which involves redesigning all the galleries and public facilities in the museum that have yet to be remodelled. This is to ensure that the exhibits are better displayed, more information is available and the Museum meets modern expectations for museum facilities; it should take about ten years to complete the work.

The museum also runs the Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green and used to run the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden and Apsley House. The Theatre Museum is now closed and the V&A Theatre Collections are now displayed within the South Kensington building.

Regional partnerships

The V&A has no museums or galleries of its own outside of London. Instead it works with a small number of partner organisations in Sheffield, Dundee and Blackpool to provide a regional presence.

The V&A is in discussion with the University of Dundee, University of Abertay, Dundee City Council and the Scottish Government with a view to opening a new £43m gallery in Dundee which would use the V&A brand although it would be funded through and operated independently. The V&A Dundee will be on the city's waterfront and is intended to focus on fashion, architecture, product design, graphic arts and photography. It is planned that it could open within 5 years.

Plans for a new gallery in Blackpool are also under consideration. This follows earlier plans to move the theatre collection to a new £60m museum in Blackpool, which failed due to lack of funding.

The V&A exhibits twice a year at the Millennium Galleries in partnership with Museums Sheffield. the range of the collection is immense. The Nehru gallery of Indian art, opened in 1991, contains art from about 500 BC to the 19th century. There is an extensive collection of sculpture, mainly of a religious nature, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain. The gallery is richly endowed with art of the Mughal Empire, including fine portraits of the emperors and other paintings and drawings, jade wine cups and gold spoons inset with emeralds, diamonds and rubies, also from this period are parts of buildings such as a jaali and pillars. India was a large producer of textiles, from dyed cotton chintz, muslin to rich embroidery work using gold and silver thread, coloured sequins and beads is displayed, as are carpets from Agra and Lahore. Examples of clothing are also displayed. One of the more unusual items on display in the Indian Gallery is 'Tipu's Tiger', an automaton and mechanical organ made in Mysore around 1795. It represents a tiger mauling a soldier or officer of the British East India Company. It is named after the ruler of Mysore who commissioned it, Tipu Sultan. In 1879–80 the collections of the British East India Company's India Museum were given to the V&A and the British Museum.

The Far Eastern collections include more than 70,000 works of art from China, dating from the 4th millennium BC to the present day. Though the majority of art works on display date from the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty, there are exquisite examples of objects dating from the Tang Dynasty and earlier periods. Notably, a metre high bronze head of Buddha dated to the c750 AD and one of the oldest items a 2,000 year old jade horse head from a burial, other sculptures include life size tomb guardians. Classic examples of Chinese manufacturing are displayed which include lacquer, silk, porcelain, jade and cloisonné enamel. Two large ancestor portraits of a husband and wife painted in watercolour on silk date from the 18th century. There is a unique Chinese lacquerware table, made in the imperial workshops during the reign of Emperor Xuande. Examples of clothing are also displayed. One of the largest objects is a mid-17th century bed. The work of contemporary Chinese designers is also displayed.

The Toshiba gallery of Japanese art opened in December 1986. The majority of exhibits date from 1550 to 1900, but one of the oldest pieces displayed is the 13th-century sculpture of Amida Nyorai. Examples of classic Japanese armour from the mid-19th century, steel sword blades (Katana), Inro, lacquerware including the Mazarin Chest dated c1640 is one of the finest surviving pieces from Kyoto, porcelain including Imari, Netsuke, woodblock prints including the work of Ando Hiroshige, graphic works include printed books, as well as a few paintings, scrolls and screens, textiles and dress including kimonos are some of the objects on display. One of the finest objects displayed is Suzuki Chokichi's bronze incense burner (koro) dated 1875, standing at over 2.25 metres high and 1.25 metres in diameter it is also one of the largest examples made.

The smaller galleries cover Korea, the Himalayan kingdoms and South East Asia. Korean displays include green-glazed ceramics, silk embroideries from officials' robes and gleaming boxes inlaid with mother-of-pearl made between 500 AD and 2000. Himalayan items include important early Nepalese bronze sculptures, repoussé work and embroidery. Tibetan art from the 14th to the 19th century is represented by notable 14th- and 15th-century religious images in wood and bronze, scroll paintings and ritual objects. Art from Thailand, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka in gold, silver, bronze, stone, terracotta and ivory represents these rich and complex cultures, the displays span the 6th to 19th centuries. Refined Hindu and Buddhist sculptures reflect the influence of India; items on show include betel-nut cutters, ivory combs and bronze palanquin hooks.

British galleries

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, Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam, Canaletto, Josiah Wedgwood, Matthew Boulton, Eleanor Coade, Canova, John Constable, Thomas Chippendale, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, William Morris, William Burges, Charles Robert Ashbee, Christopher Dresser, James McNeill Whistler and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Patrons who have influenced taste are also represented by works of art from their collections, these include: Horace Walpole (a major influence on the Gothic Revival), William Thomas Beckford and Thomas Hope.

The exhibit notes that the people who influenced style changed over time from 1500 to 1900. In the early 16th century, the Catholic Church and the British Monarchy dominated taste, but as time passed, first the aristocracy, then also the middle class begin to have a greater and greater influence on taste. This mirrored rising national wealth and power, as British trade spread around the globe followed by the founding and expansion of the British Empire.

There are five complete rooms from demolished buildings displayed in the galleries These are:

  • The parlour from the Old Palace, Bromley-by-Bow, dated 1606, with carved Renaissance-style oak panelling, overmantel and richly decorated plaster ceiling.
  • The parlour from 2 Henrietta Street, London, dated 1727–28, designed by James Gibbs with an elaborate ceiling with inset paintings and carved fireplace.
  • The Norfolk House Music Room, St James Square, London, dated 1756, designed by Matthew Brettingham and Giovanni Battista Borra. The white panelling and ceiling have carved and gilded Rococo decoration with matching mirrors.
  • The Strawberry Room from, Lee Priory, Kent, dated 1783–94, designed by James Wyatt in a Gothick style
  • The Ante-room from The Grove Harborne, Birmingham, 1877–78, designed by John Henry Chamberlain in High-Victorian Neo-Gothic style.

Furthermore, there are displays of parts of rooms:

  • The Hayes Grange Room, c1585–c1620, attributed to the amateur architect John Osborne is an early example for Britain of the correct use of the classical orders. Only the end wall and part of the ceiling is displayed due to the size of the room.
  • There are parts of two Robert Adam designed rooms on show:
    • A section of a wall from the Glass Drawing Room of Northumberland House, dated 1773–1775. The main panels consist of glass backed by red foil, the pilasters glass backed with green foil and covered by elaborate carvings of gilded wood, and there is a neo-classical painting inset above the door.
    • A room from the Adelphi Buildings, buiilt c1772, demolished in 1936. Only the ceiling and fireplace survive.

Some of the more notable works displayed in the galleries include:

  • Pietro Torrigiani's coloured terracotta bust of Henry VII, dated 1509–11
  • The Dacre Heraldic Beasts, extraordinary 2 metre high carvings of a bull, gryphon, ram and salmon, in realistic colours, dated 1519-21
  • Henry VIII's writing desk, dated 1525, made from walnut and oak, lined with leather and painted and gilded with the king's coat of arms
  • A spinet dated 1570–1580, made for Elizabeth I
  • The Great Bed of Ware, dated 1590–1600, an elaborately carved four-poster bed with headboard inlaid with marquetry, said to sleep twelve people
  • A portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger dated c1620 of Margaret Laton, and the actual embroidered jacket that the sitter is wearing in the painting
  • Bernini's bust of Thomas Barker, dated c1638
  • The Mortlake tapestry, dated to the mid-17th century, part of a series covering the story of Venus and Vulcan
  • The wood relief of The Stoning of St Stephen, dated c1670, by Grinling Gibbons
  • The state bed from Melville House, dated 1700, over 4.6 metres high with hangings of crimson Italian velvet and Chinese silk linings
  • Embroidery hangings from Stoke Edith dated c1710-20
  • The Macclesfield Wine Set, dated 1719–1720, a unique set of silverware consisting of a large wine cooler, cistern and fountain for washing wine glasses, made by Anthony Nelme. This is the only complete set known to survive.
  • The life-size sculpture of George Frederick Handel, dated 1738, by Louis-François Roubiliac
  • A sculpture of Castor and Pollux, dated 1767, by Joseph Nollekens
  • A bureau dressing table, dated 1771-5, by Thomas Chippendale
  • The Duchess of Manchester's cabinet, dated 1776, designed by Robert Adam and incorporating Pietra Dura plaques made by Baccio Cappelli
  • Two sculptures by Canova, The Three Graces, from 1815–17, and The Sleeping Nymph, from 1822
  • The painting of Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds, dated 1823, by John Constable
  • The sculpture of Bashaw by Matthew Cotes Wyatt, dated 1831–34, a lifelike sculpture of the Earl of Dudley's dog trampling on a snake, made from coloured marble
  • A carpet and tapestry by William Morris
  • A Sideboard, dated 1867–70, of ebonized mahogany and silver-plated metal work by Edward William Godwin,
  • Furniture by Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The museum also links design to wider trends in British culture. For instance, design in the Tudor period was influenced by the spread of printed books, the increasing employment of European artists and craftsmen, and, in the late 16th century, the establishment of tapestry weaving at the Sheldon works. In the Stuart period, the increase in trade, especially with Asia, brought luxuries like carpets, lacquerware furniture, silk and porcelain, within reach of more of the population. New forms of furniture appeared in the domestic setting, such as bookcases, sofas and the increasing use of upholstery. In the Georgian age there was a growth in entertainment, Vauxhall Gardens being an example. The increase tea drinking led to an increase in tea paraphernalia such as china, caddies and tables. European styles seen on the Grand Tour also influenced taste. As the Industrial Revolution took hold, the growth of mass production produced entrepreneurs such as Josiah Wedgwood, Matthew Boulton and Eleanor Coade. Displays on the Victorian era investigate the impact of new technology and machinery on manufacturing. Also, for the first time since the reformation, the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches had a major impact on art and design; particularly, the Gothic Revival. There is a large display on the Great Exhibition which, among other things, led to the founding of the V&A. The backlash against industrialization, led by John Ruskin, contributed to the Arts and Crafts movement.

Exhibits in the British Galleries:

Cast courts

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. One of these is dominated by a full-scale replica of Trajan's Column, cut in half in order to fit under the ceiling. The other includes reproductions of various works of Italian Renaissance sculpture and architecture, including a full-size replica of Michelangelo's David. Replicas of two earlier Davids by Donatello and Verrocchio, are also included, although for conservation reasons the Verrocchio replica is displayed in a glass case.

The two courts are divided by corridors on both storeys, and the partitions that used to line the upper corridor (the Gilbert Bayes sculpture gallery) were removed in 2004 in order to allow the courts to be viewed from above.


This is the largest and most comprehensive ceramics collection in the world, with over 75,000 objects from around the world. Every populated continent is represented.

Well represented in the collection is Meissen porcelain, from the first factory in Europe to discover the Chinese method of making porcelain. Among the finest examples are the Meissen Vulture from 1731 and the Möllendorff Dinner Service, designed in 1762 by Frederick II the Great. Ceramics from the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres are extensive, especially the from 18th and 19th centuries. The collection of 18th century British porcelain is the largest and finest in the world. Examples from every factory are represented, the collections of Chelsea porcelain and Worcester Porcelain being especially fine. All the major 19th-century British factories are also represented. A major boost to the collections was the Salting Bequest made in 1909, which enriched the museum's stock of Chinese and Japanese ceramics. This bequest forms part of the finest collection of East Asian pottery and porcelain in the world, including Kakiemon ware.

Many famous potters, such as Josiah Wedgwood, William Frend De Morgan and Bernard Leach as well as Mintons Ltd & Royal Doulton are represented in the collection. There is an extensive collection of Delftware produced in both Britain and Holland, which includes a circa 1695 flower pyramid over a metre in height. Bernard Palissy has several examples of his work in the collection including dishes, jugs and candlesticks. The largest objects in the collection are a series of elaborately ornamented ceramic stoves from the 16th and 17th centuries, made in Germany and Switzerland. There is an unrivalled collection of Italian maiolica and lustreware from Spain. The collection of Iznik pottery from Turkey is the largest in the world.

The ceramics galleries, which are located on the museum's top floor, closed for renovation in 2005. The first section, redesigned with the support of the Headley Trust and other donors, reopened in September 2009. The second and final section will open in June 2010.


These galleries are dedicated to temporary exhibits showcasing both trends from recent decades and the latest in design and fashion.


The costume collection is the most comprehensive in Britain, containing over 14,000 outfits plus accessories, mainly dating from 1600 to the present. It also contains costume sketches, design notebooks, and other works on paper. Because everyday clothing from previous eras has not generally survived, the collection is dominated by fashionable clothes made for special occasions. One of the first significant gifts of costume came in 1913 when the V&A received the Talbot Hughes collection containing 1,442 costumes and items as a gift from Harrods following its display at the nearby department store.

Some of the oldest items in the collection are medieval vestments, especially Opus Anglicanum. One of the most important items in the collection is the wedding suit of James II of England, which is displayed in the British Galleries.

In 1971, Cecil Beaton curated an exhibition of 1,200 20th-century high-fashion garments and accessories, including gowns worn by leading socialites such as Patricia Lopez-Willshaw, Gloria Guinness and Princess Lee Radziwill, and actresses such as Audrey Hepburn and Ruth Ford. After the exhibition, Beaton donated most of the exhibits to the Museum in the names of their former owners.

In 2002, the Museum acquired the Costiff collection of 178 Vivienne Westwood costumes. Other famous designers with work in the collection include Coco Chanel, Hubert de Givenchy, Christian Dior, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Guy Laroche, Irene Galitzine, Mila Schön, Valentino Garavani, Norman Norell, Norman Hartnell, Zandra Rhodes, Hardy Amies, Mary Quant, Christian Lacroix, Jean Muir and Pierre Cardin. The museum continues to purchase modern couture fashions to add to the collection.


The jewellery collection, containing over 6000 items, includes jewelry dating from Ancient Egypt to the present day, as well as jewellery designs on paper. The museum owns pieces by renowned jewelers Cartier, Jean Schlumberger, Peter Carl Fabergé and Lalique. Other items in the collection include diamond dress ornaments made for Catherine the Great, bracelet clasps once belonging to Marie Antoinette, and the Beauharnais emerald necklace presented by Napoleon to his adopted daughter Hortense de Beauharnais in 1806. The museum also collects modern jewellery by designers such as Gerda Flockinger and Wendy Ramshaw, and African and Asian traditional jewellery. Major bequests include Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend's collection of 154 gems bequeathed in 1869, Lady Cory's 1951 gift of major diamond jewellery from the 18th and 19th centuries, and jewellery scholar Dame Joan Evans' 1977 gift of more than 800 jewels dating from the Middle Ages to the early 19th century. A new jewellery gallery, funded by William and Judith Bollinger, opened on May 24, 2008.

Furniture and furnishings

The furniture and furnishings collection covers Britain, Europe and America from the Middle Ages to the present. The collection contains over 14,000 items that include complete rooms, musical instruments, and clocks, as well as furniture. The majority of the collection is British, dating between 1700 and 1900, The finest examples are displayed in the British Galleries. British designers with works in the collection include William Kent, Henry Flitcroft, Matthias Lock, Thomas Chippendale, James Stuart, William Chambers, Robert Adam, John Gillow, James Wyatt, Thomas Hopper, Charles Heathcote Tatham, A.W.N. Pugin, William Burges, William Morris, Charles Voysey, Charles Robert Ashbee, Baillie Scott, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Edwin Lutyens, Edward Maufe, Wells Coates & Robin Day. The museum also hosts the national collection of wallpaper.

There are two complete 18th-century rooms from Europe on display. The Boudoir of Madame de Sévilly was designed in 1781-2 in Paris, by Claude Nicolas Ledoux, with exquisitely painted panelling by Jean Simeon Rousseau de la Rottiere. The glittering Italian 'cabinet' of 1780 is elliptical in plan with a mirrored domed ceiling, elaborate parquet floor, and carved panelling.

The Soulages collection of Italian and French Renaissance objects was acquired between 1859 and 1865, and includes several cassone. The John Jones Collection of French 18th century art and furnishings was left to the museum in 1882, then valued at £250,000. One of the most important pieces in this collection is a marquetry commode by the ébéniste Jean-Henri Riesener dated c1780. Other signed pieces of furniture in the collection include a bureau by Jean-François Oeben, a pair of pedestals with inlaid brass work by André-Charles Boulle, a commode by Bernard Vanrisamburgh and a work-table by Martin Carlin. Other 18th century ébénistes represented in the Museum collection include Adam Weisweiler, David Roentgen, Gilles Joubert & Pierre Langlois. In 1901, Sir George Donaldson donated several pieces of art nouveau furniture to the museum, which he had acquired the previous year at the Paris Exposition Universelle. This was criticized at the time, with the result that the museum ceased to collect contemporary items and did not do so again until the 1960s. In 1986 the Lady Abingdon collection of French Empire furniture was bequeathed by Mrs T.R.P. Hole.

There are a set of beautiful inlaid doors, dated 1580 from Antwerp City Hall, attributed to Hans Vredeman de Vries. One of the finest pieces of continental furniture in the collection is the Rococo Augustus Rex Bureau Cabinet dated c1750 from Germany, with especially fine marquetry and ormolu mounts. One of the grandest pieces of 19th century furniture is the highly elaborate French Cabinet dated 1861–1867 made by M. Fourdinois, made from ebony inlaid with box, lime, holly, pear, walnut and mahogany woods as well as marble with gilded carvings. Furniture designed by Ernest Gimson, Edward William Godwin, Charles Voysey, Adolf Loos and Otto Wagner are among the late 19th century and early 20th century examples in the collection. The work of modernists in the collection include Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer, Charles and Ray Eames, Giò Ponti and Eileen Gray. The work of Frank Lloyd Wright is represented by the Kaufmann Office designed and constructed between 1934 and 1937 for the owner of a Pittsburgh department store;, not currently on display due to the closure of the Cole Wing for redevelopment as the new education centre. Contemporary designers represented in the collection include Ron Arad.

The most important musical instrument in the collection is a violin by Antonio Stradivari dated 1699. The most unusual musical instrument on display is the giant double bass attributed to Gasparo da Salò and once owned by Domenico Dragonetti. Edward Burne-Jones designed the grand piano in 1883 that was part of the Ionides's bequest, built by Broadwood and Sons, of stained oak decorated with gold and silver-gilt gesso. Most of the musical instruments are either keyboards (pianos, spinets, harpsichords, organs) or string instruments, often with elaborate inlays or carving.

One of the oldest clocks in the collection is an astronomical clock of 1588 by Francis Nowe. One of the largest is James Markwick the younger's longcase clock of 1725, nearly 3 metres in height and japanned. Other clock makers with work in the collection include: Thomas Tompion, Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, John Ellicott & William Carpenter.


The collection covers 4000 years of glass making, and has over 6000 items from Africa, Britain, Europe, America and Asia. The earliest glassware on display comes from Ancient Egypt and continues through the Ancient Roman, Medieval, Renaissance covering areas such as Venetian glass and Bohemian glass and more recent periods, including Art Nouveau glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Émile Gallé, the Art Deco style is represented by several examples by René Lalique. There are many examples of crystal chandeliers both English, displayed in the British galleries and foreign for example Venetian (attributed to Giuseppe Briati) dated c1750 are in the collection. The Stained Glass collection is possibly the finest in the world, covering the medieval to modern periods, and covering Europe as well as Britain. Several examples of English 16th century Heraldic glass is displayed in the British Galleries. Many well known designers of stained glass are represented in the collection including, from the 19th century: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. There is also an example of Frank Lloyd Wright's work in the collection. 20th century designers include Harry Clarke, John Piper, Patrick Reyntiens, Veronica Whall and Brian Clarke.

The main gallery was redesigned in 1994, the glass balustrade on the staircase and mezzanine are the work of Danny Lane, the gallery covering contemporary glass opened in 2004 and the sacred silver and stained glass gallery in 2005. In this latter gallery stained glass is displayed along side silverware starting in the 12th century and continuing to the present. Some of the most outstanding stained glass, dated 1243-1248 comes from the Sainte Chapelle, is displayed along with other examples in the new Medieval & Renaissance galleries. The important 13th century glass beaker known as the Luck of Edenhall is also displayed in these galleries. Examples of British stained glass are displayed in the British Galleries. One of the most spectacular items in the collection is the chandelier by Dale Chihuly in the rotunda at the Museum's main entrance.


This collection of over 45,000 items covers decorative ironwork, both wrought and cast, bronze, silverware, arms and armour, pewter, brassware and enamels (including many examples from Limoges). The main iron work gallery was redesigned in 1995.

There are over 10,000 objects made from silver or gold in the collection, the display (about 15% of the collection) is divided into secular and sacred covering both Christian (Roman Catholic, Anglican and Greek Orthodox) and Jewish liturgical vessels and items. The main silver gallery is divided into these areas: British silver pre-1800; British silver 1800 to 1900; modernist to contemporary silver; European silver. The collection includes the earliest known piece of English silver with a dated hallmark, this is a silver gilt beaker dated 1496–97. Silversmiths' whose work is represented in the collection include Paul de Lamerie and Paul Storr whose Castlereagh Inkstand dated 1817–19 is one of his finest works.

The main Iron Work gallery covers European wrought and cast iron from the Medieval period to the Early 20th century. The master of wrought ironwork Jean Tijou is represented by both examples of his work and designs on paper. One of the largest items is the Hereford Screen, weighing nearly 8 tonnes, 10.5 metres high and 11 metres wide, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1862 for the chancel in Hereford Cathedral, from which it was removed in 1967. It was made by Skidmore & Company. Its structure of timber and cast iron is embellished with wrought iron, burnished brass and copper. Much of the copper and ironwork is painted in a wide range of colours. The arches and columns are decorated with polished quartz and panels of mosaic.

One of the rarest items in the collection is the 58 cm high Gloucester candlestick, dated to c1110, made from gilt bronze; with highly elaborate and intricate intertwining branches containing small figures and inscriptions, it is a tour de force of bronze casting. Also of importance is The Becket Casket dated c1180 to contain relics of St Thomas Becket, made from gilt copper, with enamelled scenes of the saint's martyrdom. Another highlight is the 1351 Reichenau Crozier. The Burghley Nef, a salt-cellar, French, dated 1527-28, uses a nautilus shell to form the hull of a vessel, which rests on the tail of a parcelgilt mermaid, who rests on a hexagonal gilt plinth on six claw-and-ball feet. Both masts have main and top-sails, and battlemented fighting-tops are made from gold. These items are displayed in the new Medieval & Renaissance galleries.

Paintings and drawings

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 gifted 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 & Alphonse Legros.

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 the 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, amongst other works, water colours by J. M. W. Turner. Other water colourists 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 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 Ross.

Drawings in the collection of c. 10,000 British and c. 2,000 old master works, include work by: Dürer, Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, Bernardo Buontalenti, Rembrandt, Antonio Verrio, Paul Sandby, John Russell, Angelica Kauffmann, John Flaxman, Hugh Douglas Hamilton, Thomas Rowlandson, William Kilburn, Thomas Girtin, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, David Wilkie, John Martin, Samuel Palmer, Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, Lord Frederic Leighton, Sir Samuel Luke Fildes and Aubrey Vincent Beardsley. Modern British artists represented in the collection include: Paul Nash, Percy Wyndham Lewis, Eric Gill, Stanley Spencer, John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Lucian Freud and David Hockney. In order to conserve the drawings, the displays in the gallery are changed regularly.

Periods and styles

These galleries cover an entire period in western design, objects on display cover all areas of the museum's collections relevant to that period, these are: Medieval and Renaissance; Baroque and Rococo; 18th century including Neoclassicism; 19th century including, Empire Style, Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau; 20th century including, Art Deco and Modernism. All these galleries are closed but due to reopen by 2008 or 2009.


The collection contains over 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 collection includes the work of many photographers from Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Clementina Maude, Gustave Le Gray, Benjamin Brecknell Turner, Frederick Hollyer, Samuel Bourne, Roger Fenton, Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ilse Bing, Bill Brandt, Cecil Beaton (there are over 8000 of his negatives), Don McCullin, David Bailey, Jim Lee and Helen Chadwick to the present day.

One of the more unusual collections is that of Eadweard Muybridge's photographs of Animal Locomotion of 1887, this consists of 781 plates. These sequences of photographs taken a fraction of a second apart capture images of different animals and humans performimg various actions. There are several of John Thomson's 1876-7 images of Street Life in London in the collection. The Museum also holds James Lafayette's society portraits, a collection of over 600 photographs dating from the late 19th to early 20th centuries and portraying a wide range of society figures of the period, including bishops, generals, society ladies, Indian maharajas, Ethiopian rulers and other foreign leaders, actresses, people posing in their motor cars and a sequence of photographs recording the guests at the famous fancy dress ball held at Devonshire House in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee.

In 2003 and 2007 Penelope Smail and Kathleen Moffat generously donated Curtis Moffat's extensive archive to the Museum. He created dynamic abstract photographs, innovative colour still-lives and glamorous society portraits during the 1920s and 1930s. He was also a pivotal figure in Modernist interior design. In Paris during the 1920s, Moffat collaborated with Man Ray, producing portraits and abstract photograms or 'rayographs'.

Prints and books

The museum houses the National Art Library, containing over 750,000 books, 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.

The Library consists of three large public rooms, with around a hundred individual study desks. These are the West Room, Centre Room and Reading Room. The centre room contains 'special collection material'.

One of the great treasures in the library is the Codex Forster, some of Leonardo da Vinci's note books. The Codex consists of three parchment-bound manuscripts, Forster I, Forster II, and Forster III, quite small in size, dated between 1490 and 1505. Their contents include a large collection of sketches and references to the equestrian sculpture commissioned by the Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza to commemorate his father Francesco Sforza. These were bequeathed with over 18,000 books to the museum in 1876 by John Forster. The Reverend Alexander Dyce was another benefactor of the library, leaving over 14,000 books to the museum in 1869. Amongst the books he collected are early editions in Greek and Latin of the poets and playwrights Aeschylus, Aristotle, Homer, Livy, Ovid, Pindar, Sophocles and Virgil. More recent authors include Giovanni Boccaccio, Dante, Racine, Rabelais and Molière.

Writers whose papers are in the library are as diverse as Charles Dickens and Beatrix Potter. Illuminated manuscripts in the library dating from the 12th to 16th centuries include: the Eadwine Psalter, Canterbury; Pocket Book of Hours, Rheims; Missal from the Royal Abbey of Saint Denis, Paris; the Simon Marmion Book of Hours, Bruges; 1524 Charter illuminated by Lucas Horenbout, London; the Armagnac manuscript of the trial and rehabilitation of Joan of Arc, Rouen. also the Victorian period is represented by William Morris.

The print collection has over 500,000 items, covering: posters, greetings cards, book plates, as well as 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 sculpture collection at the V&A is the most comprehensive holding of post-classical European sculpture in the world. There are approximately 17,500 objects<ref name="autogenerated1" /> in the collection that cover the period from about 400 AD to 1914. This covers amongst other periods Byzantine and Anglo Saxon ivory sculptures, British, French and Spanish medieval statues and carvings, the Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical, Victorian and Art Nouveau periods. All uses of sculpture are represented, from tomb and memorial, to portrait, allegorical, religious, mythical, statues for gardens including fountains, as well as architectural decorations. Materials used include, marble, alabaster, stone, terracotta, wood (history of wood carving), ivory, gesso, plaster, bronze, lead and ceramics.

The collection of Italian, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical sculpture (both original and in cast form) is unequalled outside of Italy. It includes Canova's The Three Graces, which the museum jointly owns with National Galleries of Scotland. Italian sculptors whose work is held by the museum include: Bartolomeo Bon, Bartolomeo Bellano, Luca della Robbia, Giovanni Pisano, Donatello, Agostino di Duccio, Andrea Riccio, Antonio Rossellino, Andrea del Verrocchio, Antonio Lombardo, Andrea Riccio, Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi, Andrea della Robbia, Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, Michelangelo (represented by a freehand wax model and casts of his most famous sculptures), Jacopo Sansovino, Alessandro Algardi, Antonio Calcagni, Benvenuto Cellini (Medusa's head dated c1547), Agostino Busti, Bartolomeo Ammanati, Giacomo della Porta, Giambologna (Samson Slaying a Philistine (Giambologna) c1562, his finest work outside Italy), Bernini (Neptune and Triton c1622–3), Giovanni Battista Foggini, Vincenzo Foggini (Samson and the Philistines), Massimiliano Soldani Benzi, Antonio Corradini, Andrea Brustolon, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Innocenzo Spinazzi, Canova, Carlo Marochetti and Rafaelle Monti. An unusual sculpture is the ancient Roman statue of Narcissus restored by Valerio Cioli c1564 with plaster. There are several small scale bronzes by Donatello, Alessandro Vittoria, Tiziano Aspetti & Francesco Fanelli in the collection. The largest item from Italy is the Chancel Chapel from Santa Chiara Florence dated 1493–1500, designed by Giuliano da Sangallo it is 11.1 metres in height by 5.4 metres square, it includes a grand sculpted tabernacle by Antonio Rossellino and coloured terracotta decoration.

Rodin is represented by over 20 works in the museum collection, making it one of the largest collections of the sculptor's work outside France; these were gifted to the museum by the sculptor in 1914, as acknowledgement of Britain's support of France in World War I, although the statue of St John the Baptist had been purchased in 1902 by public subscription. Other French sculptors with work in the collection are Hubert Le Sueur, François Girardon, Michel Clodion, Jean-Antoine Houdon, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux and Jules Dalou.

There are also several Renaissance works by Northern European sculptors in the collection including work by: Veit Stoss, Tilman Riemenschneider, Hendrick de Keyser, Jan van Schayck, Hans Daucher and Peter Flotner. Baroque works from the same area include the work of, Adriaen de Vries and Sébastien Slodtz. The Spanish sculptors with work in the collection include Alonso Berrugete and Luisa Roldán represented by her Virgin and Child with St Diego of Alcala c1695.

Sculptors both British and Europeans who were based in Britain and whose work is in the collection include: Nicholas Stone, Caius Gabriel Cibber, Grinling Gibbons, John Michael Rysbrack, Louis-Francois Roubiliac, Peter Scheemakers, Sir Henry Cheere, Agostino Carlini, Thomas Banks, Joseph Nollekens, Joseph Wilton, John Flaxman, Sir Francis Chantrey, John Gibson, Edward Hodges Baily, Lord Leighton, Alfred Stevens, Thomas Brock, Alfred Gilbert, George Frampton, Eric Gill. A sample of some of these sculptors' work is on display in the British Galleries.

With the opening of the Dorothy and Michael Hintze sculpture galleries in 2006 it was decided to extend the chronology of the works on display up to 1950; this has involved loans by other museums, including Tate Britain, so works by Henry Moore and Jacob Epstein along with other of their contemporaries are now on view. These galleries concentrate on works dated 1600 to 1950 by British sculptors, works by continental sculptors who worked in Britain, and works bought by British patrons from the continental sculptors, such as Canova's Theseus and the Minotaur. The galleries overlooking the garden are arranged by theme, tomb sculpture, portraiture, garden sculpture and mythology. Then there is a section that covers late 19th century and early 20th century sculpture, this includes work by Rodin and other French sculptors such as Dalou who spent several years in Britain where he taught sculpture.

Smaller scale works are displayed in the Gilbert Bayes gallery, covering medieval especially English alabaster sculpture, bronzes, wooden sculptures and has demonstrations of various techniques such as bronze casting using Lost-wax casting.

The majority of the Medieval and Renaissance sculpture is displayed in the new Medieval and Renaissance galleries (opened December 2009).

One of the largest objects in the collection is the Hertogenbosch Roodloft, from Holland, dated 1610–1613 this is as much a work of architecture as sculpture, 10.4 metres wide, 7.8 metres high, the architectural framework is of various coloured marbles including columns, arches and balustrade, against which are statues and bas-reliefs and other carvings in alabaster, the work of sculptor Conrad van Norenberch.


The collection of textiles consists of over 38,000 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. Techniques represented include: weaving, printing, quilting embroidery, lace, tapestry and carpets. These are classified by technique, countries of origin and date of production. The collections are well represented in these areas: early silks from the Near East, lace, European tapestries and English medieval church embroidery.

Both of the major English centres of tapestry weaving of the 16th and 17th centuries respectively, Sheldon & Mortlake are represented in the collection by several examples. As are examples from John Vanderbank's workshop, the leading English tapestry manufactory in the late 17th century and early 18th century. Some of the finest tapestries are examples from the Gobelins workshop, including a set of 'Jason and the Argonauts' dating from the 1750s. Other continental centres of tapestry weaving with work in the collection include Brussels, Tournai, Beauvais, Strasbourg and Florence. One of the highlights of the collection is the four Devonshire Hunting Tapestries, very rare 15th century tapestries, woven in the Netherlands, depicting the hunting of various animals; not just their age but their size make these unique. One of the earliest surviving examples of European quilting, the late 13th-century Siciian Tristan Quilt, is also held by the collection. The collection has numerous examples of various types of textiles designed by William Morris, including, embroidery, woven fabrics, tapestries (Including 'The Forest' tapestry of 1887), rugs and carpets, as well as pattern books and paper designs. The art deco period is covered by rugs and fabrics designed by Marion Dorn. From the same period there is a rug designed by Serge Chermayeff.

Theatre and performance

The V&A Theatre & Performance galleries, formerly the Theatre Museum, opened in March 2009. The collections are stored by the V&A and are available for research and exhibitions. They hold the UK's national collection of material about live performance in the UK since Shakespeare's day, covering drama, dance, musical theatre, circus, music hall, rock and pop, and other forms of live entertainment. Types of items displayed include costumes, set models, prompt books, and posters.


The V&A holds some of the most impressive exhibitions on art in London, this is in part because of the large galleries devoted to temporary exhibitions. A typical year will see over a dozen different exhibitions being staged covering all areas of the collections. Some of the larger exhibitions of recent years have been:

  • Art Deco: 27 March – 20 July 2003
  • Gothic Art for England 1400–1547: 9 October 2003 – 18 January 2004
  • Encounters The Meeting of Asia and Europe 1500–1800: 23 September – 5 December 2004
  • International Arts and Crafts: 17 March – 24 July 2005
  • Modernism Designing a New World: 6 April 2006 – 23 July 2006
  • Kylie — The Exhibition: 8 February – 10 June 2007
  • The Golden Age of Couture — Paris & London 1947-22 September 1957 2007 — 9 January 2008
  • Postmodernism, Style and Subversion 1970 to 1990: 24 September 2011 - 15 January 2012
  • Cloth of St Gereon, a fragment they have in their inventory. It happens to be the oldest European tapestry still existing.

Notable exhibitions of the past include:

  • Britain Can Make It, 1946

Transport connections

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General views of galleries

External links