Photographs Gallery, Room 100, 2011
On 24 October 2011, the V&A’s new Photographs Gallery was opened to the public. The gallery has an inaugural display of works by key figures of photographic history including Victorian portraits by Julia Margaret Cameron and significant works by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, Afred Stieglitz, Diane Arbus and Irving Penn.
The Photographs Gallery draws upon the V&A’s internationally renowned collection of photographs, and chronicles the history of photography from 1839 up to the 1960s. In 1858, the V&A became the first museum to exhibit photographs, and the new Photographs Gallery is able to showcase some of the most technically brilliant and artistically accomplished photographs in its collection. Temporary displays, primarily showcasing contemporary photography, will be shown in the V&A’s existing photographs gallery.
About the redevelopment
The redeveloped space was formerly part of the National Competition Gallery, and had originally been decorated with 20 large, semi-circular paintings illustrating the principles and practices of art education with imagery evoking the highest achievements from the history of art.
These lunette paintings were stored at the outbreak of the Second World War, where they would remain for 70 years. As part of FuturePlan, which aims to reinstate the V&A’s original decoration where possible, the lunettes have now returned to the Photographs Gallery space after extensive conservation.
Godfrey Sykes and J. Emms, Model Drawing
Model Drawing, 1863 by Godfrey Sykes, was the first of the Lunette paintings. Godfrey Sykes was employed at the V&A and designed much of its decoration.
Richard Redgrave, Freehand Drawing
'Freehand Drawing', designed by Richard Redgrave, was the last to be painted in 1874.It illustrates the famous legend about the 14th-century painter Giotto, who proved his unsurpassed skill to Pope Benedict IX by sending him nothing but a freehand drawing of a perfectly circular ‘O’.
Beattie, Allegory with Putti: Design and Manufacture
The close relationship of the National Course of Art Instruction curriculum to manufacture is illustrated in this lunette. An Italianate putto on the left, holding a pencil or chalk, is matched by another on the right displaying ornamental tableware, illustrating the beginning and the end of the design process.
Val Prinsep, The Distribution of Art Prizes: Scholars Receiving Laurels
Prize-giving ceremonies were depicted in two elongated lunettes, commissioned in 1869 when the gallery was extended. Val Prinsep’s painting The Distribution of Art Prizes even includes a portrait of the Museum’s first director Henry Cole, third from the right, in what is otherwise an Italian Renaissance setting – symbolic of the school’s ambitions.
David Wilkie Wynfield, Drawing from Still Life
David Wilkie Wynfield’s Drawing from Still Life shows a 17th-century Flemish interior, with the still-life painter Frans Snyders (1579-1657) outlining a display of fruit and game of the kind for which he is best known.
Eyre Crowe, Modelling from Life, 1868
Modelling from Life by Eyre Crowe, an honorary member of the St John’s Wood Clique, depicts Michelangelo at work on a sculpture while young students look on.
Francis Moody, Study of Anatomy
Frank W. Moody, a teacher at South Kensington, painted Study of Anatomy. In the luneete, students watch while an anatomist dissects a corpse and on the left, a student compares the arm of the cadaver with that of a human skeleton.
Half-way through cleaning Sykes’s Model Drawing
Between 2009 and 2010 the lunettes were cleaned and conserved. Because they were painted over a considerable period of time by several artists, some of whom were inexperienced students, they presented various challenges to the conservators.
Accumulations of surface dirt had obscured the real colours of the paintings, which have now been revealed. The reinstallation of the lunette paintings has brought one of the Museum’s original decorative schemes back to life, and celebrates the period in which it was the centre of national art education.
This development was completed as part of FuturePlan
FuturePlan is transforming the V&A by revitalising visitor facilities and redisplaying the collections. Using the best architects and designers, we are bringing the V&A into the 21st century and restoring modern design and innovation to the heart of the museum.