The Victoria and Albert Museum is part of the great complex of museums in South Kensington
The Victoria and Albert Museum is part of the great complex of museums in South Kensington (the others being the Natural History Museum, the Geological Museum and the Science Museum). The idea of the "V and A" came from Prince Albert, and the museum was originally financed from the profits of the Great Exhibition of 1851. The Museum was opened in 1857 in the building which now houses the Bethnal Green Museum. The foundation stone of the present building was laid by Queen Victoria in 1899, and it was formally opened by Edward VII in 1909 as the national museum of fine and applied arts. With its extensive collections of material from many countries and many periods it is one of the world's great art museums.
The exhibits are arranged in two groups - the Primary Collections, in which masterpieces in every field of art are brought together by style, period and country of origin, and the Study Collections, in which the objects are grouped according to the material used (wood, metal, ceramics, textiles, etc.). Every department of the museum contains a great range of treasures - whether in the field of Byzantine and early medieval art, ceramics and porcelain, prints and drawings, metalwork or musical instruments. The museum has a valuable collection of paintings, including many works by Constable in the Henry Cole Wing, but it is notable also for its collection of British miniatures and watercolors and for the cartoons designed by Raphael for Pope Leo X in 1516. The textile department is of great interest, but so, too, are the departments of costume, woodcarving, alabasters and ivories. The furniture is displayed in a series of rooms completely furnished in period style. The collections of Islamic and Far Eastern art are of notable quality. Further attractive collections include weaponry and jewelery. Richly decorated rooms to the rear of the ground floor, the Morris Room and Poynter Room, which once housed the first museum restaurant in England, are of particular interest.
With such a wealth of valuable and interesting material, it is not possible within the compass of this guide to list even a selection of the finest exhibits. At first, a collection of this size appears to be a conglomeration and may easily overwhelm the visitor. The best plan - since it is manifestly impossible to get round the whole museum in a single visit - is to study the plans and decide which items or sections you particularly want to see. If you want to study some particular field in more detail it is well worth while purchasing the current catalogue of the museum, which will also give information about new acquisitions or rearrangements of the exhibits.