The V&A | Royal Museum Of Design
Main image: ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The V&A speaks for itself.
But not literally. Whiiiiiiiich is why we’re writing this.
The history of this iconic museum is rich. Originally named the Museum of Manufacturers in 1852, Henry Cole (its first director) declared that the museum “should be a schoolroom for everyone on a mission to improve the standards of British industry by educating designers, manufacturers and consumers in art and science”. Queen Victoria herself then laid the final foundation stone in the new building in 1899, when it was renamed as the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Now the world’s largest museum of applied and decorative arts and design, the V&A houses a permanent collection of over 2.3 million objects spanning over 5000 years of humanity. And the variety on offer is pretty astounding. It houses many of the UK’s national collections in architecture, furniture, fashion, textiles, photography, sculpture, painting, jewellery, glass, ceramics, book arts, theatre and design, with collections being broken down into four main brackets: Asia; Europe; Exhibitions; plus Materials & Techniques. And every Friday, the museum opens its doors for V&A Lates, when you can enjoy all of the above… with cocktails.
Within its cavernous, labyrinthine galleries (which are works of art in themselves), you’ll find 19th century wedding dresses and Dame Edna’s spectacles; a replica statue of David and a Maharajah’s throne; a 3000-year old golden necklace; Medieval manuscripts; Persian rugs; a minuscule notebook belonging to Leonardo da Vinci and an animatronic wooden tiger.
While most of the artefacts are permanently housed at the V&A, they also host visiting exhibitions. Currently, they include the striking swinging 60s creations of fashion designer Mary Quant, and an exploration of the culture and sustainability of food, featuring edible water bottles and a toilet made of cow pats.
Besides the vast trove of priceless artwork, there’s also a lecture theatre that plays host to fascinating speakers each month; the National Art Library; 8km of design archives; a beautiful outdoor courtyard and the museum tearooms – the first in the UK, and housed in stunning rooms designed by William Morris, James Gamble and Edward Poynter.
There’s a downloadable interactive map to help you find your way around – which breaks everything down so that you can search for specific items and rooms or just browse the galleries floor by floor, depending on how long you’ve got. And if you want to explore some of the museum’s lesser known highlights, you can sign up to a Breadcrumbs treasure hunt, which’ll text you cryptic clues to lead you around the building.
NOTE: The V&A is open daily, 10am-5.45pm (10pm on Fridays). The permanent collections are free to visit, but you’ll need a ticket for the visiting exhibitions. Booking ahead is highly recommended, which you can do HERE.
V & A Museum | Cromwell Road, Knightsbridge, SW7 2RL
Keen on visual arts? Why not check out the Design Museum?