The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Government wanted to revive the arts in London

In 1836 the government identified a lack of funding for the arts. In response, they put into motion a plan to establish a network of design schools and art galleries. It is unlikely that the then government would have been able to predict the lasting legacy the most famous of these initiatives would have on the world, and that in 2015 it would still be standing and more popular than ever.  

In 1837 the school of Design in Ornamental Arts was founded and housed in Somerset House. By 1951, the school was unable to accommodate the growing demand of prospective and current students, this is when Henry Cole a young civil servant was appointed to oversee and improve the running of the school. By 1852 Cole became General Superintendent and the museum moved to South Kensington, and was renamed the South Kensington Museum in 1857.

The founding of the museum

By 1899 the museum's foundation stone was laid by Queen Victoria, and the museum has since been known as the Victoria and Albert Museum and Henry Cole became the museum's first director. Perhaps one of the most fascinating museums in London, the V&A seems to be universally loved by visitors. The museum is an enchanting place to appreciate design of all kind, from every corner of the world, some of which originates from epoch's of ancient history that continue to beguile us. Such as the period of the Ottoman's and 14th Century Italian art.

The Museum’s Structure

The museum building itself is a beautiful statuesque design, and to this day stands intact in the affluent borough of South Kensington, on a strip that has become known as Museum Street. The current museum is an extension of an existing building, built for Queen Victoria's gardener, which had fallen into disrepair. It might surprise readers to learn that the area of South Kensington in the 1850s was located on what was then the outskirts of the city of London, and was far from the grandeur the area is known for today; in 1850 this part of town was quite lackluster.

The Museum today

What can visitors expect to find in the museum? Fashion and textiles, architecture, design, archaeology, childhood and photography are just some of the categories that visitors can be absorbed within. As well as temporary exhibitions, the museum houses 2,000 years of historical artifacts in its permanent collection. The wealth of the collections will astound visitors,and the sheer volume and diversity should mean that there will be something to interest all minds.

Currently, the museum is exhibiting an exhibition on Wedding Dresses throughout the ages: from 1775 to 2014, until March 2015. The exhibition showcases dresses worn by women throughout history including that worn by the American heiress Cara Leland Huttleston Rogers, in 1890, for example.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to appreciate the changing style of the wedding dress, from different cultures including Iceland, Japan and India. The dresses exhibited come with literature, often naming the bride, the date of the marriage and to whom they were married. The exhibition tries to give a personal even if it is only a brief insight into the wearer of the dress. Many of the dresses exhibited were donated by the current owner of the dress.

The V&A’s permanent collection

Among the permanent collections, visitors will be able to admire jewellery worn by dignitaries, or that have been unearthed in archaeological digs. Intricate textiles and fashion throughout the ages including shoes made entirely from cloth, as well as a man's wedding worn in the 17th Century and a lady's dress, created in 1740s Spitalfields. Furniture fabric and tapestries can be admired from the various decades of the 20th Century, from all parts of the world, including Italy, China and India.

How to find the V&A

Contact the V&A

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