on July 10, 2009
The Victorian age was probably the golden age of museum building. One of the greatest of these is the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is the national museum for the decorative and applied arts.The museum is located in South Kensington (southwest London) on Cromwell Road and Exhibition Road near the Royal Albert Hall, Science Museum and Natural History Museum. It is easy to find. You just get the Piccadilly, Circle or District line to South Kensington tube station. There is a subway that connects the station with the museums and the entrance to the V and A is clearly marked. There was no chance of getting lost. The same can not be said for navigating the museum. This is because the museum is huge. It is on six floors and covers anything that can be manufactured, carved or decorated such as textiles, metal work, sculpture and painting. The exhibits come from all over the world and span the centuries from the Middle Ages to contemporary pieces. It has been described, as a warehouse for all that is beautiful! There is a free map ( and gallery plans dispersed intermittently. All galleries are numbered. However I still found myself getting lost. The museum runs free guided tours throughout the day and I would highly recommend them. My guide was a very well spoken lady who was friendly, willing to answer questions was informative without being dry. The tour gave me a good understanding of the early history of the museum and also pointed out some highlights in the collection.After taking my tour I decided to go to level five and work my way down (level six is not open to the public). This took me four and a half-hours and I skipped a few galleries especially on floor 1 and 0 as I had museum fatigue. The galleries I particularly enjoyed and spent a lot of time in were the British galleries from 1600 to 1900. I liked these displays as most of the things were in context with themes such as eating and drinking, birth, marriage and death rather than just shelves and shelves of one thing. I found the silver, glass and ironwork galleries were less successful because of this. There are only so many ornate iron railings a girl can take.I always enjoy the costume galleries. Fashion and its ludicrousness always fascinated me as people are trying to accentuate and distort their natural shape whether it be a bustle, a corset or a Wonder Bra. I almost have to laugh at the eighteenth century dresses with the hoops that make the skirt twice as wide at the sides. I was slightly perplexed when looking at the display of evening dresses as there seemed to be an eighteenth century and nineteenth century dress after a modern one when they normally go in chronological order. On further inspection I found that they were modern dresses designed by Vivienne Westward influenced by older dresses. I just thought why?Another highlight for me was one of the tapestries galleries. Tapestries are not usually my thing but I found the Hardwick Hunt tapestries fascinating. These tapestries from Hardwich hall in Derbyshire date from the 15th century and depict hunting scenes. I loved them because they are massive with so much detain in them from the ermine on the robes to the faces. I especially loved a beautifully embroidered horse. I felt I could sit and look at them for hours and still not take in everything which is happening in them.The final area that really interested me is the Cast Court. This is made up of plaster of Paris copies of sculptures from Roman pillars to Michelangelo's David. It felt very Victorian as they were in no particular order and a bit higgledy-piggledy. The reason why they existed my guide told me was so that 19th century art students could draw works of sculpture without having to travel or relying on an illustration from a book. I skipped past the paintings. The museum is supposed to have one of the biggest collections of Constable but I found the way the paintings were arranged to be inaccessible to me. It was a very Victorian, arrangement, all jumbled up three paintings high. I prefer a linear layout as I can see the paintings at the top. I also prefer things to be arranged thematically as it makes more sense to me. I did spend a little bit more time on the miniatures as I find the detail on such small paintings incredible.The interpretation used a mix of methods but relied quite heavily on interpretation panels and labels. These suit the museum as they provide the most information when you have such a vast collection. I sometimes find these problematic due to my eyesight especially if they are at ground level or quite far back in the case. However the V and A do cater for visually impaired visitors like me by providing large print books of the interpretation labels. When items were grouped thematically I found the larger interpretation panels very informative. They also used more modern methods to good effect. I liked the touch screen audiovisuals that showed how objects were crafted. I am not sure the V and A is one to drag children round for hours on end. However there were a number of interactive for the kids (and big kids inside us). There was a Clore discovery area n the British Galleries. There were some genius things like assembling a chair as well as the more common brass rubbing's and dress up boxes. I could not resist trying on a replica corset and crinoline as I always thought they looked elegant and wanted to know what it felt like wearing that much underwear. It took me two seconds of wearing them to decide I am glad to be a modern girl, as it was not easy to walk or sit in at all. The hands on exhibits catered for visually impaired people as well as children. There were bits of sculpture and different materials to feel and in these areas there were Braille labels. Like most museums the V and A is making their collections accessible to everyone.I did appreciate the little touches like magnifying glass being supplied by the miniatures so I could look at them in greater detail. I also appreciated the folding stools and plenty of places to sit and rest. The museum is accessible for disabled people with a ramp entrance and lifts to all floors. The V and A is not a museum you can nip in for 15 minutes unless you have a particular gallery in mind. I felt I could literally spend days in there and still not see everything. I must have walked at least two or three miles so my advice is take a comfortable pair of shows.The best thing about the V and A is that it is free although a donation of £3 is suggested. That is great value for a day's entertainment. The only charge is for the special exhibitions. A museum visit is not complete without a visit to the shop. Some can be a bit tacky but the V and A's one has recently been refurbished and is very classy. It was large, bright and tastefully arranged. There did not seem to be too much tat at all. There was a nice range of books, cards and postcards. A lot of the stuff was a bit on the expensive side but it did seem excellent quality. Near the end of my visit I was pretty weary so I decided to pop into the café. I decided not to have food as the pre-packed sandwiches were £3 up and made to order deli ones even more. It did have a nice range of smoothies, juices and iced teas that were not that expensive. They are £2.25 so are comparably priced to a juice bar or Starbucks). I selected the interesting sounding rose iced tea with fresh apple and sunflower. I could not taste sunflower but it was lovely and refreshing. For those who bring their own food there is a lovely courtyard garden (the Pirelli Gardens) with beautiful fountains. This would be ideal for a summer's picnic. I really enjoyed my wander around the Victoria and Albert. I certainly will go back. I want to see the galleries that I missed and skimmed over especially the Chinese ones. I saw some of the exhibits on my guided tour and the Imperial robes and thrones really brought to life for me objects described in books that I have read such as Empress Orchid. I would also like to see more of the exterior as I entered and exited by tunnel. There is so much to see at the V and A that repeated visits seem to be a must.
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