The Victoria and Albert Museum in the South Kensington area of London is the largest museum of decorative arts in the world. It contains nearly 150 galleries, in which you can see displays of furniture, jewelry, glass, fashion, ceramics, photography, textiles, paintings, architecture and more, from all over the world. Its collections cover three thousand years of history and culture.
The museum was originally founded in 1852 as The Museum of Manufactures. When it moved to its current location in 1857, it was renamed The South Kensington Museum. In 1899, when Queen Victoria laid the first foundation stone for the grand faÃ?Â§ade of the current building, the museum was finally called The Victoria and Albert Museum.
Visitors with a particular interest in British culture and history should check out the British Galleries. These galleries cover British design and art from 1500-1900 and feature such historical treasures as the Great Bed of Ware, Henry VIII’s writing desk, and James II’s wedding suit. You can also see displays from some of Britain’s great manufacturers: Wedgwood, Chippendale, and Mackintosh, among others. Paintings and books are also housed in the British Galleries.
Britain’s imperial conquests have also allowed the V&A to acquire materials from far-flung lands, particularly stone and bronze sculpture, metalwork, woodwork, furniture, and jewelry from India and South East Asia. Islamic and East Asian art are also well represented.
The fashion exhibit is an interesting one, covering dress from the Renaissance through modern day. As you pass through this exhibit, you may see fashion design students sketching some of the pieces. This is the V&A’s ultimate purpose – to inspire artists and designers with the broad range of their collections. The fashion collections have such interesting and quirky themes as the history of the corset, and displays from notable fashion periods, such as the 1960’s.
With the numerous kinds of exhibits and the massive scale of its holdings, the Victoria and Albert Museum has something for everyone’s taste. Whether your interests lie in European culture and history or elsewhere, you will find something here to admire and enjoy. There are even areas for children, so a trip to the V&A can be a family affair. Prepare to spend several hours exploring all the wonders of the V&A, but don’t despair, the museum offers several cafes, baby changing facilities, and is somewhat stroller friendly (maps indicate where the museum may be inaccessible to strollers), so you and your family can wander the exhibits and enjoy the museum for as long as you wish. There is also a museum store that sells books, stationary and gifts, to bring a little of the V&A back home with you. A trip to London really isn’t complete without a visit to this remarkable museum.
Daily – 10 am to 5:45 pm
Wednesdays and last Friday of each month – 10 am to 10 pm
Admission is free (except for special exhibitions and events)