The V&A is one of the world’s – let alone London's – most magnificent museums, its foundation stone laid on this site by Queen Victoria in her last official public engagement in 1899. It is a superb showcase for applied arts from around the world, appreciably calmer than its tearaway cousins on the other side of Exhibition Road. Some 150 grand galleries on seven floors contain countless pieces of furniture, ceramics, sculpture, paintings, posters, jewellery, metalwork, glass, textiles and dress, spanning several centuries. Items are grouped by theme, origin or age: for advice, tap the patient staff, who field a formidable combination of leaflets, floor plans, general knowledge and polite concern.
Highlights include the seven Raphael Cartoons painted in 1515 as tapestry designs for the Sistine Chapel; the finest collection of Italian Renaissance sculpture outside Italy; the Ardabil carpet, the world’s oldest and arguably most splendid floor covering, in the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art; and the Luck of Edenhall, a thirteenth-century glass beaker from Syria. The Fashion galleries run from eighteenth-century court dress right up to contemporary chiffon numbers; the Architecture gallery has videos, models, plans and descriptions of various styles; and the famous Photography collection holds over 500,000 images.
Over more than a decade, the V&A’s on-going FuturePlan transformation has been a revelation. The completely refurbished Medieval & Renaissance Galleries are stunning, but there are many other eye-catching new or redisplayed exhibits: they were preceded by the restored mosaic floors and beautiful stained glass of the fourteenth- to seventeenth-century sculpture rooms, just off the central John Madejski Garden, and followed by the Furniture Galleries – an immediate hit on opening in late 2012. On a smaller scale, the Gilbert Collection of silver, gold and gemmed ornaments arrived from Somerset House; the Ceramics Galleries have been renovated and supplemented with an eye-catching bridge; there’s lovely Buddhist sculpture in the Robert HN Ho Family Foundation Galleries; and the Theatre & Performance Galleries took over where Covent Garden’s defunct Theatre Museum left off.
Newer additions include the museum's 'Rapid Response Collection' features examples of contemporary design and architecture, particularly those that represent important events and current affairs. The ambitious Europe 1600-1815 galleries, which cost £12.5m, will open in December 2015. A stunning 4m-long table fountain – painstakingly reconstructed from eighteenth-century fragments – is the centrepiece of seven new galleries, taking a chronological and thematic approach to European clothes, furnishings and other artefacts. The Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art reopened in November 2015, exhibiting 550 works from the sixth century to the present day. Look out for the first ever Sony Walkman, a Hello Kitty rice cooker and an origami outfit by Issey Miyake. See a slideshow of highlights from the collection.
|Opening hours:||Mon-Thu, Sat, Sun 10am-5.45pm; Fri 10am-10pm|
|Transport:||Tube: South Kensington|
|Price:||Free (permanent collection); admission charge applies for some temporary exhibitions|
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Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion
The V&A has written the mother of all love songs to Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972), and it’s one that will have you swooning over the Spanish fashion designer, too. The ground floor is dedicated to his craftsmanship, and will have fashion nerds in...Exhibitions Until Sunday February 18 2018
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An exhibition about industrially produced sheet wood might not exactly sound enthralling. But never underestimate the V&A's ability to take the most humdrum of subjects and bring it to life. This exhibition will cast a look at plywood's revolutionary...Exhibitions Until Sunday November 12 2017
Rachel Kneebone at the V&A
Kneebone's sculpture '399 Days' – originally shown at White Cube in 2014 – is a towering colossus made of porcelain tiles and writhing limbs, and is going to look pretty damn spectacular amongst the objects of Gallery 50a at the V&A. Three other sculptures...Until Sunday January 14 2018 Free
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The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains
Fifty years since their first single, Arnold Layne, the V&A is hosting a retrospective of those psychedelic pioneers, the Floyd. Set and construction pieces from The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall join instruments, designs, lyrics and prints - and,...Exhibitions Until Sunday October 1 2017
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Opera: Passion, Power and Politics
This exhibition will take a sweeping look at the history of opera, from its roots in Renaissance Italy to its present-day form. Conceptually arranged around seven different operatic premieres as case studies, works like Mozart's 'Le Nozze di Figaro', Handel's...Exhibitions Saturday September 30 2017 - Sunday February 25 2018
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Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring A Classic
There are few creative relationships that have the capacity to dazzle countless generations of readers like that between a children's writer and illustrator. This was the certainly the case with AA Milne, the creator of Winnie-the-Pooh, and EH Shephard....Exhibitions Saturday December 16 2017 - Sunday April 8 2018