The V&A calls itself “The world’s leading museum of Art and Design”, a bold claim. In a city that has many of the greatest museums in the world, the Victoria and Albert is among the best of them. It is certainly my favourite. The permanent collection is vast, with almost 3 million objects and the variety of displays is huge, in terms of time -from antiquity to the present day, geography – literally all over the world and, ideas – ancient Japanese art, through early 20th century arts and craft, to current video game design.
London is very lucky in that most of its museums and galleries are free. The V&A charge for some of their exhibitions but the permanent collection is always free. There are lunchtime lectures most Thursdays, which are free, and these are on a wide variety of topics, recent examples range from “The Christmas Story in Late Medieval and Renaissance Paintings” (I admit that sounded a bit dry, but it wasn’t!), to “Beatrix Potter” and “Hallyu” about popular culture in South Korea.
They have free music concerts – the last time I went, there was a pianist, Ivan Moshchuk, playing Schubert, in Gallery 87. There are also tours of different parts of the collection, varying in subject from Female Voices, through African Heritage, Fashion, and Theatre and Performance.
The collection is far too big to do in one day. So, you will probably need to choose the areas that you are most interested in and save the rest for another day. They have a really good theatre area, very hands on with costumes to dress up in, excellent if you bring children. Their gold and silver collection is remarkable, there is a solid gold door from a Kyiv cathedral, that had been given to them by Catherine the Great. I’m not sure how it managed to get to be in the collection of the V&A, but it is remarkable nonetheless.
There is a huge room dedicated to jewelry. The windows of one side of the second floor are covered inside with stained glass. There is a collection of ancient Chinese ceramics and of Philip Treacy hats. They are strong on fashion, from 16th century underwear to Alexander McQueen evening dresses. There is a display on the history of the mobile phone, it is surprising to see things that you have owned in a museum collection. It made me think “Have I still got one of those in a drawer somewhere?” There is a room of 1960s and 1970s futuristic furniture, which is truly amazing.
The cafe is fantastic, both in terms of the food it sells and its decor. The central seating area is the earliest ever museum cafe, decorated in the bright colorful style of a Parisian Cafe, but with English tin glazed majolica tiles. It is still in remarkably good condition. There are two slightly smaller seating rooms, one decorated by Edward John Poynter and one by William Morris off to either side. The food ordering area is late 20th Century with the sharp clean lines and muted colours of the time. Even if you are not intending to eat you should certainly walk through.
As you may have guessed, I really like this museum and if you are only going to visit one museum in London (but don’t only visit one – see The Wallace Collection, The Science Museum and Natural History Museum too, if you can) then this should be the one. I am certainly not going to dispute their claim to be “The world’s leading museum of art and design”. If you get the opportunity, you should definitely go.