The V&A Museum (Victoria and Albert) is part of Prince Albert’s legacy. His, and the museum’s, aim was to educate working class people, to make art available to one and all, and to provide inspiration to British designers and manufacturers. The museum was founded in 1852 and was moved to the present site in 1857. Buildings were added as the collections grew in size. It was then called South Kensington Museum. In 1899, Queen Victoria laid the cornerstone of a new grand building. On that occasion, the museum was renamed the Victoria and Albert in memory of Albert.
The V&A Museum in Kensington has amazing collections that span many centuries and cultures of Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. You could spend hours, days even, enjoying all this museum has to offer. And the great thing is that you can come back as often as you want because the entrance is free of charge. All these treasures at your fingertips at no charge!
I visited the V&A Museum recently and learnt a few “secrets,” which I’m going to share with you now.
If you go in through the main entrance on Cromwell Road, make sure you look up at the Dale Chihuly‘s blown glass chandelier under the dome. It is beautiful, like the rest of his work.
If you enter the museum through the Exhibition Road entrance, like I did, first you see the pockmarked outside walls. This is bomb damage sustained during the Blitz, when the Luftwaffe dropped bombs on London and other British cities during World War II. It is a sobering sight indeed. Once inside, you go down a set of steps into a sculpture gallery. This gallery has mainly work by French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
Prepare to be amazed by the monumental Cast Courts opened in 1873. The collections consist of casts of monuments like the Trajan column, buildings like the Portico de la Gloria from Santiago de Compostela cathedral, or sculptures like Michelangelo’s David. In Victorian times, these casts were considered great educational tools for those who couldn’t afford to travel. Nowadays, these plaster artifacts are a valuable record of damaged or even destroyed originals.
One of the Museum’s attractions is the collection of Raphael’s cartoons. I did a double take when I heard that. Cartoons as in Peanuts or Tom & Jerry? Not quite. Cartoon derives from the Italian word cartone, which means a large sheet of paper or a preparatory design. These cartoons are full-scale designs for tapestries commissioned for the Sistine Chapel. The cartoons depict the acts of St. Peter and St. Paul and were designed by Raphael and painted by him and his assistants.
The V&A Museum is open daily from 10 am to 5.45 pm. It closes at 10 pm on Fridays (some galleries have an earlier closing time.)
Address: Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL.
Admission is free although some exhibitions carry a charge.
Photography and sketching are permitted (yay!) except in the temporary exhibitions (probably due to copyright.)
The closest underground station is South Kensington.