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Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, London, opened in 1852 as the Museum of Manufacturers at Marlborough House. It originally contained a nucleus of contemporary objects of applied art bought from the Great Exhibition of 1851 at the instigation of Prince Albert, and collections from the Government School of Design. The collection was soon expanded to include objects of all styles and periods, and the name was changed to Museum of Ornamental Art. In 1857 it was moved to its present site in South Kensington, to become part of the collective museum known as the South Kensington Museum. The present building, designed by Sir Aston Webb, was begun in 1899, at which time the museum was given its present name by Queen Victoria. When this building was opened in 1909, it became purely an art museum; the scientific collections were renamed the Science Museum.

The Victoria and Albert Museum's collections of paintings and sculpture (especially of early Italian works) are justly celebrated; other collections of note include ceramics, glass, jewelry, textiles, fashion, medieval enamels, ivories, miniatures, metalwork, engravings, photographs, and furniture. Raphael's cartoons for the Sistine Chapel tapestries are among its most famous treasures. The museum embraces the Royal College of Art, an extensive art library, and the collections of the India Museum, which it absorbed. It also includes the Museum of Childhood, located at Bethnal Green; opened in 1872 as the Bethnal Green Museum, it exhibited a variety of objects until 1974 when it was dedicated to the subject of childhood. It now displays the museum's toy collection as well as children's clothing, books, art, and other items related to youth.

See M. Baker and B. Richardson, ed., A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum (1997); A. Burton, Vision and Accident: The Story of the Victoria and Albert Museum (1999).

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Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum. After the success of the Great Exhibition (1851), a museum of manufactures was quickly established in Marlborough House; however, despite maintaining strong links with the design schools established in the 1830s because of perceived lapses in design standards from the impact of mechanization upon traditional crafts, its collecting policies became increasingly antiquarian. The first director was Henry Cole, a pioneer of public relations, who oversaw the construction of new but heterogeneous buildings at South Kensington (opened 1857), a site suggested by Prince Albert. Administrative chaos after Cole's retirement eventually led to the severance of the sciences to their own museum, and the new, renamed building designed by Webb (imposing but impractical) was completed by 1908. Arrangements on craft lines did not cede to chronological presentations until after 1948, but, likened to ‘an extremely capacious handbag’, the ‘V. & A.’ has become a leading museum for world-wide decorative art.

A. S. Hargreaves

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