Of the many museums in London, there were three that I found myself returning to again and again. The first two I’ve already written about – the British Museum and the Natural History Museum – and today I’m finally getting around to sharing about the third, the Victoria and Albert Museum.
To be honest, I almost didn’t visit this museum at all. I’d heard the Victoria and Albert Museum was focused on fashion and decorative arts, two things I know very little about, and at least in the case of fashion, also care very little about. Case in point – I once had someone in London ask me if my scarf was an Alexander McQueen and the only reason I knew he was asking if I was wearing something designer was because he’d used the word an instead of from. I literally know nothing about fashion. (By the way, my scarf was definitely not an Alexander McQueen, unless Alexander McQueen sells scarves on the sale rack at Target…then maybe.)
But I was wrong about the Victoria and Albert Museum. While the V&A does house the world’s largest collection of decorative arts and design, there is a lot more to see here than just medieval corsets and ancient fancy teacups. If it weren’t for my friend Emma who convinced me to visit my first time, I might never have known how many cool, non-fashion related things there are to see inside this museum.
The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum is located in London’s “museum quarter” in South Kensington. Both the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum are only steps away, making it easy to visit all three museums in the same day if you’re limited on time. You’ll need a lot more than a day to see everything in any of these museums, though, as they all (especially the NHM and V&A) have way too much on display to see it all in an afternoon. (This is why I return so many times to my favorite museums. Well, that and the fact that they are free!)
If you enter the Victoria and Albert Museum via the main entrance on Cromwell Road, you’ll get to see something special before you even enter any of the galleries. Hanging from the ceiling in the lobby is a gorgeous blown glass chandelier sculpted by none other than Dale Chihuly. (Okay, so I know one designer. We actually went to see his exhibition at the Halcyon Gallery one year.)
Paul and Jill Ruddock Galleries
Just to the right of the main lobby is one of the prettiest spaces in the Victoria and Albert Museum. I love the light and open space in the Paul and Jill Ruddock Galleries almost as much as I love the renaissance sculptures displayed in them. Sculpture has always been my favorite art to see inside museums, mostly because I don’t need a background in art history to understand and appreciate sculpture, but also because sculptures are just more fun to photograph. My favorite room of the Paul and Jill Ruddock Galleries was the first off the lobby (pictured above) featuring Giambologna’s Samson Slaying A Philistine at its center.
The Cast Courts
Okay, so the real David by Michelangelo might not be displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, but if you can’t make it to Florence to see the real one, what’s the next best thing? A life-size replica. (You guys can blame Cory if you’re offended by that photo showcasing the, umm…veins in David’s hands? I asked him if it was funny or inappropriate and he said funny, so I went with it!)
Famous naked men aside, the Cast Courts in the Victoria and Albert Museum are not to be missed. Located on the first floor behind the Paul and Jill Ruddock Galleries, the Cast Courts completely take over two large galleries. You can wander through both galleries getting up close and personal with the plaster casts of famous (mostly Italian Renaissance) sculptures and monuments, but to get a good look at everything as a whole, make sure you head up to the second floor balcony which overlooks the Cast Courts from above.
Dorothy and Michael Hintze Galleries
Focusing on sculpture in Britain, the Dorothy and Michael Hintze Galleries showcase sculptures ranging from mythological creatures to portrait and funeral busts. (Still can’t get over the weirdness that was the “death mask” trend. Gives me the heebie jeebies.) These galleries have windows looking out onto the courtyard garden which you should definitely step out onto after looking through the galleries.
National Art Library
The National Art Library in the Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the world’s largest reference libraries for the fine and decorative arts. Anyone can enter after presenting an ID, but all bags need to be left in the cloakroom. Books can be requested and referenced within the library, but not taken from the premises. If you plan to visit the library to study rather than just to see or photograph it (it’s a seriously gorgeous library!), I recommend checking out the V&A’s library rules here first.
Every time I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, it seemed there was always a new photography exhibition to see. Some were ticketed, others were free, but my favorite was one called The History of Photography. An expansion on the V&A’s permanent, smaller exhibit on the same subject, The History of Photography reminded me why I took up my photography hobby in the first place. Seeing others’ pictures always inspires me to improve my own.
I just recently heard that the V&A has plans to introduce a new Photography Centre in 2018 which will double the size of their current exhibition space. This is great news since I always found the photography galleries at the V&A to be disappointingly small, especially considering that the museum has a collection of 500,000+ images, most of which never make it out of storage. It’ll be very exciting to see what they are able to display with a much larger space!
Rooms & Halls in the Victoria and Albert Museum
With so many things to see inside them, sometimes it’s easy to forget that many of these museums we are blessed with in London are works of art themselves. The Victoria and Albert Museum is a perfect example of this. A mixture of Victorian and Edwardian in design, the architecture both inside and outside of the V&A is exquisite. Wandering in and out of rooms and down long hallways, I think I took just as many photographs of the museum itself as the things in it every time I visited. I mean, you know you’re in a fancy place when the museum cafe could rival many of the cathedrals you’ve visited.
The Victoria and Albert Museum is open daily from 10am to 5:45pm, except for Fridays when it stays open until 10pm. Admission is free, but donations are accepted in boxes throughout the museum if you want to show your support. Some temporary exhibitions charge a fee for entrance. To see a list of the V&A’s current exhibitions, visit their site here.
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