Beginnings of the V&A
Although what became the Victoria and Albert Museum was not named thus until 1899, we can say that it really began when the South Kensington Museum was opened by Queen Victoria on June 22 1857.
Paid for by profits from the Great Exhibition in the creation of which Albert played such a notable role, land in Brompton was purchased to house a museum of decorative arts – strangely, perhaps fired by the unique Crystal Palace that housed the Great Exhibition , a prefabricated iron structure (or rather twin structures) was chosen for the new institution. The buildings inevitably gained the sobriquet ‘the Brompton Boilers’. Prince Albert himself is supposed to have designed the ill-favoured iron house.
Collections from Marlborough House, opened in 1852 and named The Museum of Ornamental Art in 1853 (its original title The Museum of Manufactures), were transferred to the new site, with major additions that highlighted aspects of human ingenuity beyond the artistic – certain patented devices for example were shown.
One innovation for which the planners of the new museum should be thanked is that it included a refreshment room, the first museum in the world so provided. Millions of sufferers from museum feet ever since are grateful.
The V&A , its architecture much altered and buildings expanded, now has a massive collection, numbering well beyond four million exhibits, devoted to the cunningly wide area of “decorative arts and design,” thus including glass, ceramics, jewellery, prints and many other subjects often ill-served in other museums.
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