Building the Collections

The Victoria and Albert 
Museum is the world's 
greatest museum of 
decorative arts and 
design, housing a 
permanent collection 
of 2.76 million objects. 
Right: Dress, 1931, Madeleine
Vionnet, purchase funded by
the Friends of the V&A

Objects are the essence of the V&A. It is the collections that uphold and expand the V&A's global reputation, determine the Museum's programmes, and inspire and inform visitors. Reseach on collections influences how objects are displayed and used, and the directions in which the collections develop.

The V&A collects material relating to art and design across the globe, from woodwork, textiles, metalwork, glass, ceramics and sculpture to paintings, prints, photography and books. Contemporary art and design is purchased, donated and commissioned, and underpins the thriving contemporary programme. Relationships with today's artists and designers flourish as staff and artists exchange knowledge and support.

The growth of the collections is enabled by generous public and private funding sources, by gifts, bequests and acceptance in lieu of inheritance tax. Objects are often obtained for a specific reason - discovered and purchased for new exhibitions or galleries. The range of new acquisitions is demonstrated in the
Acquisitions Gallery.

Dress, 1931, Madeleine Vionnet

Funding from the Friends of the V&A, the V&A Director's Circle, the Art Fund and an anonymous donor made it possible for the V&A to buy four out of nine haute couture gowns acquired in partnership with The Fashion Museum and The Bowes Museum, after an export stop (the first to be placed on examples of 20th-century couture) was put on them. The nine dresses were designed by French couturier Madeleine Vionnet for a wealthy British socialite. This dress is made from printed, bias-cut silk chiffon and showcases Vionnet's mastery of cut and construction.

Consumer's Rest Lounge Chair, designed 1983, made 1990, designed by Stiletto Studios and manufactured by Siegel

Purchased for the forthcoming V&A exhibition Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990, this chair was designed by the foremost German radical design group of the 1980s. The group often incorporated found objects in their designs as a critique of late capitalist mass production. This chair, a customised shopping trolley, was a wry response to the rampant consumerism of the decade.

Dress, 1931, Madeleine Vionnet
Consumer's Rest Lounge Chair
Left: Consumer's Rest Lounge
Chair, designed 1983, made
1990, designed by Stiletto
Studios and manufactured
by Siegel

Right: Lacquer panel,
1640, Japan
Lacquer panel, 1640, Japan Free Essence-6; Ku-6, 2009, Niyoko Ikuta
Left: Free Essence-6; Ku-6, 2009, Niyoko Ikuta

Right: Educational specimen box, about 1850, England

Below: One of the Hamilton Beckford Candlesticks, 1787, Charles Aldridge

The Hamilton Beckford Candlesticks, 1787, Charles Aldridge

These silver-gilt candlesticks are based on the Roman bronze lamp stand from the collection of Sir William Hamilton, acquired by the British Museum in 1772 for study. They were commissioned by William Beckford (1760-1844), who is regarded as the first European patron to commission metalwork in historical styles.

Six porcelain notebooks, 1982-1991, Iraq,
Halim al-Karim

As a young artist, Halim al-Karim recorded his thoughts and sketches in a series of notebooks from 1982-1991. On graduating from the Baghdad Academy of Fine Arts in 1988 he hid in the desert to avoid serving in the Iraq-Iran War. Before fleeing to Jordan in 1991, he decided to 'protect his testimony'. He coated the pages of his notebooks with porcelain mixture and fired them to 1250 degrees, thereby destroying the original notebooks but creating these fragile symbols of war and censorship. The notebooks were acquired with funding from Travel with the V&A: Syria.

Lacquer panel, 1640, Japan

This panel was almost certainly the top of a chest. It bears many striking similarities in subject, style and technique to the top of the Mazarin Chest, one of the most important Japanese items in the V&A's collection. Purchased with the support of the Friends of the V&A, it belongs to a small group of extremely high quality lacquer made in Japan for the European market in the 1630s and early 1640s. The Mazarin Chest has recently been the centre of a groundbreaking conservation project supported by the Toshiba International Foundation, and international V&A conference (30-31 October 2009) funded by the
Getty Foundation.

Free Essence-6; Ku-6, 2009, Niyoko Ikuta

The craft fair COLLECT gives the V&A the opportunity to build on its holdings of contemporary work. The V&A was one of four winners of Art Fund Collect 2009. It used this prize to consolidate its contemporary Japanese glass collection with a piece of sculpture by Kyoto-based artist Niyoko Ikuta. Intrigued by the complex properties of both light and glass, Ikuta has succeeded in transforming harshly cut glass into this sensual and fluid form.

One of the Hamilton Beckford Candlesticks, 1787, Charles Aldridge
Educational specimen box, about 1850, England Design for wallpaper, 1862, Willian Morris
Left: Design for wallpaper,
1862, Willian Morris
    Right: Dress, Spring/Summer 2010, Alexander McQueen

Giltwood Stools, about 1705, England

These stools, from the State Bedroom at Warwick Castle, were reputedly given to the 1st Earl of Warwick (1719-1773) by George III. They have a very unusual method of upholstery, with a cushion resting on a one-piece valance that is secured by ribbon bows placed under the cushion. We are currently investigating this upholstery, together with the documentary evidence for the stools' original commission. Purchased with support from The Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation), The Brigadier Clark Fund, and the
London Historic House Museums Trust in memory of Wendy and George Levy.

Educational specimen box, about 1850, England

This mahogany box is filled with compartments containing specimens for use in the classroom. These include objects as diverse as India rubber, cloves, horn and a fir cone. In the mid-19th century when mainstream education advocated learning by rote with punishment for those who disobeyed, these boxes based on those pioneered by educationalist Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827), represent the alternative, child-centred method where children learn by exploration, using a range of skills and senses.

Design for wallpaper, 1862, William Morris

Loose pencil sketching visible under the gouache demonstrates Morris's working method in the early stages of developing a new design. The resulting wallpaper (already in the V&A's collection) shows how the design evolved, with fruit rearranged and the olive branch replaced by oranges and peaches. The design relates directly to the painted panels that form part of the decoration of the Green Dining Room at the V&A, carried out by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company in 1866. This design was purchased with the support of the Art Fund.

Sunday Christ, 1475-1500, England

This alabaster carving is the only known sculptural representation of the Sunday Christ. The Sunday Christ differs from traditional images of Christ: he is not shown with stigmata as an object of devotion. Instead he is a moralising figure, admonishing those who work on Sundays. He is flanked and often pierced by workman's tools. The object was bought with funds from the Hildburgh Bequest, Mr John Studzinski CBE and Paul and Jill Ruddock.

Sunday Christ 1475-1500, England

1001 Pages, 2008, Afruz Amighi

This work won the inaugural Jameel Prize for contemporary art and design inspired by Islamic tradition. Amighi hand-cut the openwork design in woven polyethylene - a material used in tents for refugees. The work is suspended and illuminated with projected light that casts shadows of the pattern on the wall behind. Purchased with support from the Travel with the V&A: Syria. .

The George Speaight Punch and Judy Archive

George Speaight (1914-2005) was one of the most distinguished historians of popular entertainment in Great Britain. His Punch and Judy Archive is probably the world's best paper archive on the subject, representing a lifetime's research. A star piece is the earliest known photograph of a Punch and Judy show (about 1860) and is one half of a stereoscopic photograph. The archive was acquired through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme.

Left: Sunday Christ, 1475-1500, England

Right: 1001 Pages, 2008, Afuz Amighi

Dress, Spring/Summer 2010, Alexander McQueen

This printed silk 'snake' dress is from Alexander McQueen's penultimate collection, 'Plato's Atlantis'. The show's underwater theme was inspired by McQueen's passion for scuba diving. Each digitally engineered pattern is unique and printed to fit the complex form of
the dress.

 1001 Pages, 2008, Afuz Amighi
Dress, Spring/Summer 2010, Alexander McQueen