Out and About: Victoria and Albert Museum:
We visit one of the world’s leading art and design museums.
One of London’s best-known museums, the Victoria and Albert Museum houses a permanent collection of over 2.3 million objects. Here you can pore over some of the world’s greatest examples of textiles, fashion, photography, ceramics, jewellery, glassware, sculptures, paintings and, of course, furniture.
In 1851 The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industries of All Nations was held in Crystal Palace in London. It was an exhibition of culture and industry and its aims were to make works of art available to all, to educate working people and to inspire British designers and manufacturers. The Great Exhibition was a huge success and the following year, profits from the Exhibition were used to establish what was then known as the Museum of Manufactures. This new museum began to build up a collection of decorative arts from around the world and from all periods of human history.
In 1899 the museum’s current home was built and it was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum in honour of Prince Albert’s enthusiasm for the project. Over the years, the collection has continued to grow as the museum has acquired more historical objects. The V&A is also committed to contemporary design and works to support and collect the work of modern designers.
What to see
The V&A holds a stunningly diverse collection of furniture spanning six centuries of creation. The collection includes many examples of British and European furniture as well as examples from East Asia, South Asia and the Islamic Middle East.
Highlights include the Great Bed of Ware (see page 72), Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s golden throne (1820–30), the Yatman Cabinet, designed by William Burges and made by Harland & Fisher in 1858 and Japanese lacquered furniture from the 1851 Great Exhibition, as well as modern pieces such as a storage unit designed by Charles & Ray Eames for Herman Miller Furniture Co., in 1949–52 and the Sketch Chair, designed by Front, Sweden and printed by Alphaform in 2005.
One of the museum’s best-known objects, The Great Bed of Ware is a carved oak (Quercus robur) four-poster bed believed to have been made in Ware, Hertfordshire in about 1590. The bed is over 3 metres wide and can accommodate four couples… although it’s thought the bed was made as a tourist attraction for an inn in Ware. The bed became so famous that it was mentioned in Shakespeare’s 1601 play Twelfth Night, as well as several other plays. The headboard and posts are covered in the initials of visitors who wanted to leave their mark.
The Great Bed’s decoration is typical of the late Elizabethan style with its elaborate carvings of acanthus leaves and strapwork. There are human figures carved on the headboard and the underside of the tester, which would originally have been painted.
The Great Bed of Ware can be seen in room 57 of the British Galleries.