V&A 150th Anniversary
In June 2007, the V&A celebrated the 150th anniversary of its opening in South Kensington.
As the world's leading museum of art and design, the V&A promotes knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of the designed world, and it inspires creativity.
To reflect this and to mark the occasion, we invited 150 leading designers, architects, photographers, fashion designers and artists to contribute a page to an anniversary album.
Selected prints were made available to purchase to support the next 150 years of the V&A, for which the V&A was thankful to all who kindly agreed for their work to be printed and help fund the work of the V&A for future generations
We also pulled together 150 facts about the V&A that give a glimpse of the history, personality and scale of the museum. We hope you enjoy reading them.
150 facts about the V&A in 2007
1. 2.37 million people visited the V&A at South Kensington in 2006, the highest figure ever.
2. In 2006, V&A exhibitions were shown in nine venues across the UK and 12 international venues, including Melbourne, Bangkok and San Francisco.
3. In addition to touring exhibitions, 2,300 V&A objects were on loan to UK venues in 2006 and 700 objects were on loan overseas.
4. Over 19 million visits are now made to the V&A website annually.
5. There are more than 100,000 pages on the V&A website.
6. 72% of V&A website users are women.
7. Many of the V&A's collections have national status. National collections at the V&A include the art of photography, British watercolours and drawings, ceramics, fashion, furniture and woodwork, glass, jewellery, metalwork including sliver, portrait miniatures, sculpture to 1914 and textiles.
8. The V&A incorporates the National Art Library, the Museum of Childhood (the national collection of childhood) and the Theatre Collections (the national collection relating to the British stage).
9. The V&A is planning an 'Olympic posters' exhibition, which will open in 2008 to coincide with the Beijing Olympics, and will go on tour until the London Olympics in 2012. It will include the Olympic torch from the 1948 London Olympics.
10. According to a survey commissioned for Museums and Galleries Month in 2006, the V&A is the most romantic museum in the UK.
11. In 2000 over 1500 people with tattoos visited the Museum on the first V&A Day of Record, to be photographed for the V&A digital archive of tattoos.
12. During a 2006 event linked to exhibitions on 'Sixties Fashion' and 'Sixties Graphics' an average of 450 people a day made t-shirts inspired by the exhibitions.
13. The online 'Design a Tile' activity has attracted over 24,000 tile designs from visitors to the website.
14. The V&A has a longstanding partnership with the Royal College of Art to provide postgraduate courses in conservation and the history of design.
15. To ensure that the collections are displayed under optimum conditions, 800 small radio transmitters are positioned throughout the Museum, which record the temperature and relative humidity every three minutes.
16. When it was established in 1857 the Museum was called the South Kensington Museum. It was renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1899 when Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of new buildings along Exhibition Road and Cromwell Road.
17. Queen Victoria really wanted to call the V&A the 'Albert Museum'.
18. The Museum was built in part of Brompton, in the western outskirts of London, but the Museum authorities re-christened the area South Kensington, which sounded more fashionable.
19. The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 owns the site of the V&A, and of the nearby Science and Natural History Museums, Imperial College, the Royal Colleges of Art and Music and Royal Albert Hall. The area, dubbed 'Albertopolis', was bought partly out of the profits of the Great Exhibition.
20. When it opened in 1857 the South Kensington Museum included displays of animal products, patented inventions and building materials, as well as art works.
21. The first Director, Sir Henry Cole, described the Museum in 1857 as 'a refuge for destitute collections'. More than a century later Sir Roy Strong called it 'an extremely capacious handbag'.
22. The main predecessor of the South Kensington Museum was the Museum of Ornamental Art at Marlborough House in the Mall, which was founded in 1852. Its collections were transferred to the new South Kensington Museum in 1857.
23. The Marlborough House collections included objects first collected by the Government School of Design, which was opened in 1837, and £5000-worth of purchases from the Great Exhibition of 1851.
24. Part of the Museum was built initially for the use of the National Gallery, which had run out of space at Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery insisted on having a separate entrance for its visitors.
25. The V&A's South and South-East Asian collections began life as the East India Company's India Museum, founded in 1801. The India Museum was transferred to the control of the South Kensington Museum in 1879.
26. The South Kensington Museum was the first museum in the world to provide a public restaurant.
27. The restaurant had different first and second class menus, and a third class service for 'mechanics and all workmen employed at the Museum Buildings and even for the humble working class visitors'.
28. The South Kensington Museum was the first in the world to use gas lighting in the galleries, to allow evening opening.
29. The first Director, Henry Cole, intended that the South Kensington Museum should attract the widest possible audience, and hoped that 'the evening opening of public museums may furnish a powerful antidote to the gin palace'.
30. The South Kensington Museum was open six days a week and on three days was open until 10pm.
31. During the 19th century the Museum had free admission three days a week and charged 6d for entry on the other three days. The purpose of the charging days was to keep the Museum quiet for students.
32. The Science Museum was originally part of the South Kensington Museum, then the V&A; it did not become a separate institution until 1909.
33. In 1873, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Robert Lowe, plotted unsuccessfully to have the South Kensington Museum taken over by the British Museum.
34. Before it had a permanent building, the National Portrait Gallery was displayed for over 15 years at South Kensington, in galleries adjoining those of the South Kensington Museum, and then for ten more years, 1885-1896, in the South Kensington's branch museum at Bethnal Green.
35. In the 1870s both the Wallace Collection, and the contents of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, were exhibited at the Bethnal Green Museum, before they had acquired permanent homes.
36. The Museum's first (temporary) buildings were made of iron, and clad in corrugated iron; they were so ugly that they were nicknamed the 'Brompton Boilers' by the Builder magazine.
37. Both the 'Brompton Boilers' and the Museum's first permanent building, a gallery for the Sheepshanks collection of paintings, were formally opened by Queen Victoria on 20 June 1857.
38. The 'Brompton Boilers' were largely dismantled in 1867 and re-erected with new brick walls and a slate roof at Bethnal Green, where they now house the V&A Museum of Childhood.
39. The V&A's buildings occupy 12 acres of land in South Kensington, and are over a third of a mile in circumference.
40. Some of the mosaic floors in the Museum were made by 'lady convicts' in Woking Prison. Museum staff jokingly gave the mosaic a Latin name, 'opus criminale'.
41. The Henry Cole Wing of the V&A was originally designed as a School of Naval Architecture and subsequently became a School of Science.
42. The statue on top of the central tower of the V&A represents Fame. Her nose is missing.
43. In 1872 a pneumatic railway was planned, to carry visitors from the South Kensington underground station to the Museum and the Royal Albert Hall. It was never built.
44. A new underground station was opened very close to the Museum in 1904, called Brompton Road. It was judged to be uneconomical and was closed in 1934.
45. When deliveries were made to the Museum by horse and cart there was not enough room for drivers to manoeuvre; there was a large turn-table on which both horse and cart could be turned round.
46. The small vacant triangle of land opposite the main entrance was bought by the Museum in 1863 to ensure that the view from Thurloe Square could never be obscured by new buildings.
47. For 80 years the Museum occupied buildings on the western side of Exhibition Road, on the site of Imperial College. The galleries here were used mainly to display Indian collections.
48. The inscription over the main entrance of the Museum reads 'The excellence of every art must consist in the complete accomplishment of its purpose', and is a quotation from the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds.
49. 35 portraits of European artists and designers were made in mosaic to decorate the South Court of the Museum in the 1860s. They were known as the Kensington Valhalla.
50. 32 statues of artists, architects and craftsmen, all of them British, were sculpted for the façade of the Museum between1900 and 1909.
51. In the early 20th century the elaborate and richly coloured Victorian interiors of the V&A fell out of fashion, and were regarded as unsuitable for museum displays. Many were destroyed or hidden. Sir Roy Strong began the process of uncovering and restoring the best interiors.
52. Tippoo's Tiger has long been one of the V&A's most popular exhibits. The wooden model of a tiger attacking a European was made for Tipu Sultan, ruler of Mysore in India, in the 1790s. A mechanical organ inside the figure imitates the growling of the tiger and the man's moans.
53. The V&A has approximately 17,500 sculptures and 10,500 oil paintings, watercolours and miniatures (more paintings than the National Gallery).
54. The Luck of Edenhall is a 13th-century Syrian glass beaker which belonged to the Musgrave family of Edenhall in Cumbria. A story connected with it relates 'If this cup should break or fall, farewell the luck of Edenhall'.
55. The iron screen from Hereford Cathedral contains 14,000 pieces. Its recent conservation and reconstruction employed 38 people and took a year.
56. The strangest sculpture in the collection is an ox's head, made in Italy in the late 17th century of marble and wood. The cavity in the head contains an osteoma or morbid growth at one time wrongly thought to be the fossilized brain of an ox.
57. The famous 12th-century Gloucester candlestick is made from nine different metals and could have been made from a hoard of coins.
58. The South Kensington Museum was one of the first museums to take a scientific approach to the conservation of objects, for instance publishing in 1888 a report on 'The action of light on water colours'.
59. There are approximately 16,000 objects from China in the collection, dating from the 4th millennium BC to the present day. They include a rare group of gilded wooden Buddhist figures from around 1200 AD and a spectacular Qing dynasty carved lacquer imperial throne.
60. An unusual portrait (and John Ruskin's most hated work of art) is the sculpture of 'Bashaw, the faithful friend of Man' by Matthew Cotes Wyatt. Bashaw, Lord Dudley's Newfoundland dog, had about 50 sittings for the portrait, which was not finished until after Lord Dudley's death in 1833. The Executors would not pay the £5000 price and so it remained in Wyatt's studio until his death.
The collections: biggest, smallest, oldest, newest
61. The tallest object in the collections is a plaster cast of Trajan's Column, reproduced from the marble original in Rome. It is 35.6 metres high and, being too tall to fit in the galleries, is displayed as two separate towers.
62. The smallest objects on display are some glass weights for testing coins dating from the 8th to 10th centuries. They have Arabic inscriptions, were found in Egypt, and some of them are less than 1 cm in diameter.
63. One of the smallest sculpted objects is a cameo portrait of Elizabeth I, dated c. 1575-80, which is 5.5 cm high. It is one of around 30 cameos of Elizabeth I that survive. She is depicted holding a sieve, perhaps symbolising chastity, or her powers of discernment.
64. The V&A owns a copy of the first commercially produced Christmas card, which was invented in 1843 by the Museum's first Director, Henry Cole.
65. The V&A was the first museum in the world to collect photographs as art, beginning in 1856
66. The V&A has the earliest photograph of London, a view down Whitehall from Trafalgar Square (before Nelson's Column was built), a daguerreotype taken by a Mr. De Ste Croix in 1839.
67. The tallest bed in the Museum is The State Bed from Melville House measuring 4.62 metres high.
68. The oldest desk in the collection-really a writing box-belonged to Henry VIII and was made in 1525.
69. The newest item of furniture in the collection is the plywood Cinderella table, made in 2006 using computerized laser technology by Dutch designer Jeroen Verhoeven.
70. The oldest objects in the Textiles and Fashion Collection are some panels of Egyptian woven linen, dated before 3150 BCE.
71. The newest Textiles and Fashion objects are ruff collars made this year from recycled V&A carry bags by Laura Anne Marsden. She calls them 'Eternal Lace'.
72. The earliest surviving wedding suit dates from 1673. It belonged to James II (before he was crowned) and is in the British Galleries .
73. The widest fashion objects is the skirt (petticoat) on a court mantua which is almost 8 feet wide (2.38 m)
74. The earliest European garment is a young man's shirt, dated 1540.
75. The Ardabil carpet at the V&A is the world's oldest dated carpet (made in Iran in 1539) and one of the largest, most beautiful and historically important in the world.
76. One of the earliest sculptures in the collection is an Egyptian ivory casket leg in the form of a lion's paw dating from the 4th century CE.
77. The most recent sculpture in the collection is the bronze medal commemorating John Charles Robinson by Felicity Powell, bronze medal, dating from 2002.
78. The most celebrated sculpture is the 'Three Graces' by Antonio Canova, made for the 6th Duke of Bedford for the Temple of Graces at Woburn Abbey in 1814-17. It was purchased by the V&A jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland for £7.6m in 1994.
79. The biggest gift is the plaster cast of Michelangelo's 'David' , which is 5.41 metres high. It was given to Queen Victoria by the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1857, and then presented by her to South Kensington.
The collections: celebrities
80. The miniature portrait of Mary Queen of Scots by Nicholas Hilliard was painted while Mary was a prisoner of Elizabeth I. Elizabeth probably commissioned this portrait of the cousin whom she had never met.
81. A Victorian wardrobe made for Penrhyn Castle and designed by Thomas Hopper was once owned by Mick Jagger. It is on display in the British Galleries.
82. Among many things at the V&A associated with Charles Dickens are his pen case and manuscript for 'Oliver Twist', on view in the British Galleries.
83. The V&A owns the famous 1963 Lewis Morley photo of Christine Keeler sitting naked astride an Arne Jacobsen style chair. It also owns the actual chair.
84. 5,000 photographs were taken of V&A visitors posing in a Jacobsen style chair in 2002. They are all available online.
85. Several sculptures by Rodin were on loan to the V&A when the First World War broke out and could not be returned to France. However, Rodin was 'so moved by the joint action of French and British troops in France' that he decided to donate them to the V&A.
86. Queen Victoria was said to be shocked by the nudity of a full-size plaster-cast of Michelangelo's 'David'. A suitably proportioned fig leaf was made, and hung on the figure using a pair of hooks when dignitaries visited. Today, the fig leaf is no longer used, but it is displayed in a case nearby.
87. The V&A owns a bed that belonged to the actor David Garrick and his wife, which was supplied (and possibly designed) by Thomas Chippendale. Its chintz hangings were confiscated by the authorities from Chippendale’s studio because Mrs Garrick had not paid the required import duties.
88. The beautiful hanging panels from Oxburgh Hall were embroidered by Mary Queen of Scots during her imprisonment between 1569 -1585.
89. The V&A collection includes a pair of Queen Victoria's knee-length drawers (or knickers), embroidered with her 'VR' cipher and the number 6.
90. The first model to design her own range of clothing was Twiggy. The V&A has a patterned mini dress from 'Twiggy', the line she designed in the 1960s.
91. Contrary to popular belief, hardly any of the V&A's collections belonged to Queen Victoria or Prince Albert. The most notable exception is a famous series of paintings, the Raphael cartoons, which were loaned by Queen Victoria and are still on loan from the present Queen.
92. Raphael's cartoons are in fact designs for a series of tapestries to be hung in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, painted in 1515 and 1516.
93. The Great Bed of Ware is Britain's most famous bed; made in the 1590s, it is over 11 feet long and ten feet wide, and is mentioned in Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night'.
94. The Great Bed of Ware was made as a marketing ploy, to attract visitors to The Crown Inn in Ware. It is supposed to be haunted and in 1736, on the night King William III was crowned, is recorded as having slept '26 butchers and their wives'.
Please note: From 5 March 2012 the Great Bed begins its journey back to Ware. It is leaving the V&A on a year-long loan to the Ware Museum – the first time the Bed has ever been on loan to another venue. Read more
95. The V&A owns some of Elton John's spectacles, Adam Ant's jackets, the Beatles' suits and Sandie Shaw's Eurovision costume.
Visitors and exhibitions
96. The first 'blockbuster' exhibition at the Museum was held in 1862. It was called the 'Special Exhibition of Works of Art of the Medieval, Renaissance and More Recent Periods'.
97. The highest number of visitors ever to attend an exhibition in a single day was in 1863 when 20,467 people plus 372 'babies in arms' came to see the Royal wedding gifts of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
98. The most popular exhibition ever at the V&A was 'Art Deco 1910-1939' in 2003 which was seen by 360,200 visitors.
99. In 1913 militant suffragettes threatened to vandalise collections in public museums and galleries. The V&A considered banning women visitors, but instead decided to protect the collections by increasing visitor numbers. Entrance charges were dropped to help achieve this.
100. A children's room was opened in the V&A in December 1915 which displayed dolls, dolls' houses, paintings of battle scenes and toy soldiers. It was described by The Times as being ideal for 'any child of a little imagination or who has any inclination to an interest in history'.
101. The first V&A 'Children's holiday sessions' took place in the school summer and Christmas holidays in 1915 and 1916.
102. The V&A first staged open-air classical music concerts in the garden in 1950. There was seating for 700 and promenade space for several hundred more.
103. As part of its outreach programme to young people, the V&A became the first museum in Britain to present a rock concert in July 1973. The V&A presented a combined concert/lecture by British progressive folk-rock band Gryphon.
104. The CD produced to accompany the 'Art Deco' exhibition sold so many copies it could have been placed in the top 40 UK chart.
The V&A at large
105. From the beginning the Museum made sure that its collections were seen outside London. The first circulating exhibition was transported in its own specially constructed railway truck.
106. The Bethnal Green branch of the museum was established in 1868. The 'animal products' collection was moved there from South Kensington, together with a food collection, and collections of shoes and boots, waste products, economic entomology and lepidoptera.
107. The Bethnal Green Museum became the Museum of Childhood in 1974.
108. In 1938 the V&A mounted an exhibition in Leicester Square underground station.
109. Since 1992 the V&A has sent touring exhibitions to Japan. They have been seen by almost 1,885,000 visitors.
110. The 'Vivienne Westwood' exhibition has been touring the world since 2004. It has travelled 36,548 miles - almost 1.5 times the circumference of the Earth.
111. The 'Black British Style' exhibition opened at the V&A in 2004 and has since toured England. It has been seen by 188,000 visitors.
112. For 125 years the V&A has administered a Government scheme, now called the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, to support regional institutions in building their collections.
113. The object which has travelled the most since it was acquired by the V&A is thought to be a watercolour of Stonehenge by John Constable, which has frequently been on loan to other museums and galleries.
114. The V&A administered two historic houses, Ham House and Osterley Park House, on behalf of the National Trust from the late 1940s until 1991.
115. The Wellington Museum at Apsley House (Number 1 London) was run as a branch of the V&A from 1947 until 2004 when management was transferred to English Heritage.
116. London's Design Museum started life in 1981 as the Boilerhouse exhibition space at the V&A. Terence Conran was the driving force behind the project, and Stephen Bayley was its curator.
117. An annual pantomime has been staged by V&A staff every Christmas since 1981, giving a satirical view of the year's events at the V&A.
118. The V&A did not employ warders or gallery assistants in the 19th century. At first, troops from the Royal Engineers acted as warders, then from 1858 until 1920 police officers fulfilled that role.
119. A small detachment of Royal Engineers (or 'sappers') was based at the Museum for over 40 years. They specialised in fire-fighting but also acted as clerks, photographers, warders and general maintenance staff.
120. There was a water tank in the Museum's grounds, both for fire-fighting, and to enable the sappers to exercise in a rowing boat.
121. Sir Henry Cole's dog Jim, and another 'faithful dog' Tycho, were buried in the V&A's garden.
122. The first female keeper was Margaret Longhurst who was appointed Keeper of Architecture & Sculpture in 1938.
123. The V&A's first full-time guide lecturer, Miss Marion Thring, was appointed in 1935.
124. In the late-19th century the Museum consulted expert outsiders to help assess new acquisitions. They were called 'Art Referees', and included artists and designers such as William Morris, Owen Jones, Frederic Leighton and Lawrence Alma-Tadema.
125. The most renowned curator of the South Kensington Museum in the 19th century was J.C. Robinson. He was dismissed from his job twice, but went on to become Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures and was knighted in 1887.
126. One side of the V&A's garden courtyard once was originally built as residences for senior Museum staff.
127. The V&A had the first public relations department of any national museum. Formed in 1947, it was at first called Museum Extension Services, and was headed by Charles Gibbs-Smith.
128. The museum employs a hawk, which is brought into the garden early in the morning during the summer to discourage pigeons.
The V&A at war
129. The V&A stayed open throughout World War I, although half of the buildings were taken over by the Board of Education, which had been forced to give up its Whitehall offices to the Admiralty.
130. The V&A's first guidebook in French was published during World War I, for the benefit of Belgian refugees.
131. During World War II part of the V&A served as an RAF canteen, and some of the galleries were used as a school for children evacuated from Gibraltar.
132. During World War II most of the V&A's collections were evacuated, to the Aldwych Underground tunnel, to Montacute House in Somerset and to Westwood Quarry near Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire.
133. The Raphael cartoons were too large to evacuate during the War and were bricked up into a protective shelter.
134. The V&A was hit repeatedly by bombs during World War II. Some bomb damage on the Exhibition Road front of the building was never repaired but was left as 'a memorial to the enduring values of this great museum in a time of conflict'.
Trouble at the Museum
135. Three letters sent by the V&A were lost on the Titanic.
136. The worst scandal in the V&A's history occurred in the 1950s when a member of staff was found to have stolen several hundred objects, including a number of swords which he smuggled out of the Museum down his trouser legs.
137. The most memorable, if notorious, publicity campaign by the V&A was devised by Saatchi and Saatchi in 1988; it featured the slogan 'An ace caff with quite a nice museum attached'.
138. When the V&A first displayed examples of Art Nouveau furniture in 1901 there was such controversy in the art establishment that the furniture was banished to Bethnal Green. It was displayed with a notice warning design students not to imitate this radical new style.
139. In the early 1980's, after a flood in a basement store, damaged books were taken and put in freezers at Harrod's department store until they could be restored.
140. The V&A's greatest public controversy occurred in 1989 when restructuring led to the redundancy of eight of the Museum's most senior staff. The event, termed the 'Massacre of the scholars' by one newspaper, gave rise to a two-year 'Save the V&A' campaign.
141. A rare incident of a V&A object self-destructing occurred in 1998. A tin of Biba-branded baked beans, part of an archive of Biba packaging and graphic design, was found to be corroded, but before conservation could take place the tin exploded.
142. Clothes moths are a serious threat to the collections. The V&A has 50 insect traps within the galleries which use female clothes moth pheromones to attract males so that insect presence can be monitored.
Some V&A Legends
143. There are seven miles of galleries in the V&A.
144. The wartime Special Operations Executive used the Royal College of Art building at the back of the V&A to fit out spies who were to be dropped into France.
145. Wartime camouflage paint can still be seen on the outside of the building when it rains.
146. A warder by the name of Clinch is said to have committebed suicide in a basement room, which has been known ever since as 'Clinch's Hole'. It is believed by some to be haunted.
147. The most glamorous event ever held at the V&A was, according to many accounts, the evening in 1981 when the Prince and Princess of Wales opened the exhibition 'The Splendours of the Gonzaga'.
Books and films
148. H.G. Wells's novel Love and Mr Lewisham is partly set in the Museum's galleries and the adjoining School of Science (now the V&A's Henry Cole Wing).
149. The first Director of the Museum, Sir Henry Cole was the model for the 'third gentleman' in Charles Dickens's Hard Times.
150. A scene from the 1967 film To Sir, with Love, starring Sidney Poitier, was filmed in the V&A.