Victoria and Albert Museum

The world’s greatest museum of art and design

Opening times

10.00 to 17.45 daily
10.00 to 22.00 Fridays

Nicholas Smith

Author: Nicholas Smith (Archivist)
The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold;Purple the sails, and so perfumed thatThe winds were lovesick with them; the oars were silver,Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and madeThe water which they beat to follow faster,As amorous of their strokes.So Shakespeare imagined Cleopatra’s perfumed voyage up the river Cydnus.In...
Author: Nicholas Smith (Archivist)
With the London Handel Festival due to start in early March I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite documents in the V&A Archive to get us (well, me!) in the mood: a set of ink drawings of historical musical instruments by the architect and art historian Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820-1877).Henry Cole (1808-1882), the V&A’s first director, was a keen Handelian (fan of the...
Author: Nicholas Smith (Archivist)
As I was leafing through an early volume of the V&A Archive’s collection of Photographic Guardbooks the eclectic parade of historical treasures passing before me was suddenly interrupted by a seemingly incongruous gallery of Royal Engineers testing collapsible pontoons in the Museum grounds!What possible reason could there be for pasting these photographs into the Guardbooks, I wondered...
Author: Nicholas Smith (Archivist)
Few museums in the world can have traded under as many names as the V&A in the first 50 years of their existence!The iconic building that we recognise today as the V&A opened in 1909; however, the museum can trace its physical footprint at South Kensington to 1857, and its intellectual roots to 1837.In 1837 the Government established a School of Design at Somerset House under the auspices...
Author: Nicholas Smith (Archivist)
On 17 May 1899 Queen Victoria travelled in a semi-state open landau the short distance from Buckingham Palace to South Kensington to lay the foundation stone for the new Victoria and Albert Museum buildings designed by the architect Aston Webb (1849-1930).Part of the elaborate ceremony included the placement of an oblong casket, made of beaten copper with gold decoration, with a domed lid...
Author: Nicholas Smith (Archivist)
In a well-known quotation, Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) advises the poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) that ‘when you come to Royalty, you should lay it [flattery] on with a trowel’ (1).Flattery was much in evidence on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s laying the foundation stone of the new buildings at the Victoria and Albert Museum on 17 May 1899, an act she...
Author: Nicholas Smith (Archivist)
Saturday 16 November (10.00 am)Monday 18 November (10.30 am and 2.30 pm)Blythe House, near Olympia, West London Due to the high demand for tickets, we are delighted to offer an extra session at 10.30 am on Monday 18 November. The Victoria and Albert Museum invites you to discover some of the amazing stories hidden within its extensive archives as part of the Explore Your Archives campaign....
Author: Nicholas Smith (Archivist)
While rummaging through a box of old photographs I chanced upon this one of the composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and tenor Peter Pears (1910-1986) taken at recital they gave at the V&A.Tenor Peter Pears and pianist Benjamin Britten on stage during a recital in the Raphael Cartoon gallery. V&A Archive, accession no. A0212. © Victoria and Albert Museum, LondonSeeing that 2013 is...
Author: Nicholas Smith (Archivist)
Did you know that the V&A was the first museum in the world to use gaslight in its galleries? This innovation was the brainchild of Henry Cole (1818-1882), the V&A’s first Director, who believed that extending the Museum’s opening hours until 10pm on two evenings a week would further his social reformist agenda by enabling working class people to visit after work and so...
Author: Nicholas Smith (Archivist)
Eliza Stothard received the exaggerated report of her death (see my previous post) with ‘mingled feelings of indignation and amusement’ (1).This humiliation came on the back of a newspaper review of Jules Comte’s La Tapisserie de Bayeux (1878) which had sought clumsily to draw a line under the affair – ‘an offence which, however inexcusable, should now be forgotten...

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