Victoria and Albert Museum Collection

Augustus Charles Pugin, Gillow & Co., John Chessell Buckler, Armchair, About 1823. Image and data from Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum's collections comprise over 4 million objects, spanning 3000 years of art in virtually every medium, from many different cultures and countries. The Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington is part of a family of museums comprising the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green and The Theatre Museum in Covent Garden. As the United Kingdom's national museum of art and design, the Victoria and Albert Museum features a huge range of collections of European, American, Asian, and Islamic decorative arts, as well as the national collections of sculpture, photography, miniature paintings, metalware, ceramics, glass, architectural drawings, British watercolors and drawings, jewelry, textiles, furniture, wallpaper, to name a few. Selections from the vast collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum are represented in Artstor with over 1,000 images, focusing mainly on decorative arts and works on paper.  

The Victoria and Albert Museum was established in 1852, following the success of the Great Exhibition the previous year. The Great Exhibition of 1851 had revealed that the quality of Britain's manufactured goods was lagging behind those from continental Europe. Thus, the museum was founded to make works of art available to all, both to educate working people and to inspire British designers and manufacturers. Profits from the Great Exhibition were used to establish the Museum of Manufactures, as it was initially known, and the exhibits were purchased to form the basis of its collections. From the start, the museum differed from sister institutions like the British Museum and the National Gallery, in its focus on applied and decorative arts. When the museum moved to its present site in 1857, it was renamed the South Kensington Museum. Its collections expanded rapidly, as the museum sought to acquire the best examples of metalwork, furniture, textiles and all other forms of decorative art from all periods. It also acquired fine art - paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture - in order to tell a more complete history of art and design. As the collections expanded, new buildings were added to the original site. It was during the foundation stone laying ceremony for the new façade in 1899, which was attended by Queen Victoria, that the museum's name was officially changed to the Victoria and Albert Museum. As a result, the museum's present site in South Kensington is a collection of buildings, covering some 12 1/2 acres, which were constructed over a 50 year period. In 2001, the museum embarked on a major redesign of its exhibition and public spaces. This Future Plan, begun in 2002, is expected to be completed in 10 years.