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The Idealist enterprise and the applied arts

The Idealist Enterprise and the Applied Arts

Michael Conforti
Fig.6. A view of the East Cast Court

From its origins in the eighteenth century, the art museum has subtly and variously represented the power of nations, the triumph of elites, the ambiguous and contingent manifestation of a culture’s social and aesthetic ideals. Of all the explicit and implicit functions of these societally mandated instruments for artistic encounter, however, the most sustained and consistently articulated aspiration has been public service through education. This is particularly true in Britain and America, where the belief in the art museum’s civic responsibility had both its origins and its earliest mandated institutional expression.

The first museum to direct its educational objectives toward broad audiences in a systematic and engagingly forceful way was one devoted to the applied arts, the Victoria and Albert Museum. With its historical roots in the liberal political philosophy of the nineteenth century and its early programs evolving from the publicly directed commercial spectacles that were the international exhibitions of the time, the V&A (or the South Kensington Museum, as it was called until 1899) represents a historical paradigm for public engagement through creative educational programming. The model it offered is as relevant to the issues of mission and audience, of social purpose and public responsibility, that face museums at the dawn of the twenty-first century as it was to institutional culture 150 years ago.

It was South Kensington’s very lack of aloofness, its amalgamation of audience excitement, educational purpose, aesthetic ambition, and, indeed, commerce-enhancing ends, that energized the nascent American museum movement in the second half of the nineteenth century. Combating decades of national negligence in the study of art reflected in attitudes like that of John Adams, who had seen “not indeed the fine arts which our country requires [but] the useful, the mechanic arts,” civic leaders like Charles Taft of Cincinnati grasped in the example of South Kensington an opportunity to generate the start-up funds for something as foreign as an art museum in the pragmatic, still somewhat insular climate of late- nineteenth-century America. When he lectured in 1878 to the Women’s Art Museum Association of Cincinnati on the value of establishing a South Kensington–style museum in his city, Taft constantly referenced its potential economic and social value, as many of his fellow civic leaders would throughout the United States.

Many of us have visited the Dresden Gallery . . . and the Berlin Museum and the term museum suggests to us . . . a series of rooms, filled with costly paintings of the old masters, antique marbles, coins, jewels . . . etc. The Ladies Association, in establishing such an institution [as South Kensington] is seeking to relieve the present pecuniary distress of our idle population, by opening new industries or enlarging the scope of the already existing.1

The Cincinnati Art Museum opened three years later. Its collection and programs, like those of many of America’s largest art museums, followed those established at South Kensington.

The respected lawyer Joseph Choate inaugurated the first permanent building of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1880 with regular references to its potential imitation of South Kensington’s program. The writings and speeches of the Boston arts advocate and South Kensington promoter Charles Perkins helped to create that city’s Museum of Fine Arts. The faith in the South Kensington example in Philadelphia and Chicago, in Providence and St. Louis, was a product of the international reputation it had established for effectively integrating contemporary aesthetics in design with social and commercial purpose, all directed at the broadest possible public. William T. Walters, the Baltimore railroad magnate and founder of that city’s Walters Art Gallery, made special note of South Kensington’s widely perceived commercial, social, and artistic achievement:

The South Kensington Museum . . . has accomplished more for the general diffusion of art knowledge and love of the beautiful among the English people than all the inactive art collections of Great Britain put together. . . . [It] injects its influence into the everyday life of the people; the [other museums] invite the gaze of the lovers of the beautiful and the curious, but are like preachers whose sermons are delivered with folded arms and closed eyes.2

In spite of South Kensington’s extraordinary achievements, and the widely accepted belief in its unconditional success, the Museum’s reputation in England in the 1880s and 1890s had begun to falter. Its first permanent exhibitions had brought together collections of art and science, foodstuffs and animal products, mirroring the informal arrangements of international exhibitions. The fame of these early exhibitions had established the Museum’s founding director, Henry Cole, as an international figure. The excitement generated by these pedagogical installations began to evaporate after Cole’s retirement in 1873. The question as well as the consequences of confusion of purpose stemming from the Museum’s multiplicity of programs was worsened by the issue that still nags at museums committed to social engineering through a gallery experience: How do you effectively educate the public in a room filled with inanimate objects? How, and what, do you teach the uninitiated as you provide pleasure for the frequent, knowledgeable visitor?

One of the legacies of the Victoria and Albert Museum, evident from virtually its moment of inception, was an institutional rhetoric that supported the educational purpose of its art collections and an institutional practice that focused on the collecting of the unusual and the fine. These objects of aesthetic merit continue to attract us today, often for reasons different from those stated at the time of acquisition. From a historical perspective, works of art in the V&A collections document a changing museological value system reflecting national and imperial ambitions, antiquarian fascinations, material and technical concerns, and changing aesthetic ideals, all integrated within the stated purpose of social and economic improvement. They also represent a mid-nineteenth-century mimetic educational philosophy, based on the experience of art, whose compelling and highly influential lesson is still with us. Most importantly, however, the V&A’s sculpture, paintings, works on paper, and applied arts collections served in the past and exist today as international standards of art and design, the canonical touchstone for excellence in each of the fields they represent. These collections remain the single greatest legacy of this portentous, extraordinarily influential institution, a Museum still able to garner the passions of its constituencies as it did when it was inaugurated more than a century ago.

South Kensington: Its Origins

When the South Kensington Museum opened in the 1850s, public education was a benignly assumed but rarely stated goal of the many organizations that called themselves museums, whether these institutions focused on paintings or objects, and whether the objects were of aesthetic, historic, or scientific interest. The values of the Enlightenment had encouraged royal collections like those in Vienna and Dresden to be made publicly accessible in the last half of the eighteenth century. Dresden’s collection derived from the mid-sixteenth-century Kunstkammer of Augustus the Strong. Literally translated from the German as “art room,” but understood at the time as a “Cabinet of Curiosities,” the Kunstkammer was a collection Fig. 7. The cabinet of  Francesco Catloariof objects, usually intermingling examples from art, nature, and science, that were seen as novel, extraordinary, or wondrous (fig. 7). Dresden’s was one of the first “working” or teaching collections, with areas provided to allow the king’s craftsmen to work with its tools or study its holdings.3 Providing objects to bolster the royal image was the ultimate purpose of this training opportunity. Similarly, in 1708 when the German philosopher G. W. Leibniz advised Russia’s Peter the Great to create a public collection “as a means to perfect the arts and sciences,” Peter eventually embraced the idea with the words, “I want the people to look and learn.” The ultimate goal of the St. Petersburg Kunstkammer, however, like that of its earlier Dresden counterpart, was to advance the level of craft production at Peter’s ambitiously Westernizing court.4

The political value of a public display of art also drove the founding in Paris of the most influential museum of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Louvre. In the spirit of the democratic ideals of the Revolution, the French royal collections were made available to all French citizens. The Louvre displays were not only splendiferous, but, like a handful of German collections of the time, were installed chronologically and by national school, with French painting maintaining a special pride of place.5 This politically purposeful bow to the pedagogical goals of the Enlightenment was expressed in French attitudes toward the useful arts and trades as well. The government-sponsored Ecole des Arts Décoratifs, an organization that still operates today, was founded in Paris in 1762 to train artists to work in industry. This institution in turn led to a regular series of exhibitions of industrial arts from 1798 on; and, in the wake of the Revolution, the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers was established, a museum of industrial art that collected objects and explained their construction and use.6

By the opening years of the nineteenth century a number of industrial training schools, societies, and collections of the “useful arts” had been established on the Continent. While they would sometimes later be incorporated into a city’s South Kensington–style applied arts museum, as often as not they remained separate from the larger effort.7 England’s privately organized study and support group, the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, had begun in 1754. Open to both men and women from its founding, it regularly awarded prizes for exceptional work or deeds, and is still in existence today. Prince Albert was elected the Society’s president in 1843. He met and was impressed by Henry Cole at Society meetings, some of which were convened to help organize the Great Exhibition of 1851. Albert’s presence gave the Society new energy, for it had gone through its weakest period in the early decades of the nineteenth century, a time when Continental countries enjoyed established and sometimes government-supported industrial arts training efforts.

While the success of the future South Kensington Museum was ensured by the positive relationship that developed between Prince Albert and Henry Cole at the Society of Arts in the 1840s, the movement to establish Continental-style education programs in the applied arts had been initiated by a newly elected group of English reform politicians a decade earlier. Wondering how aesthetic education and industrial training might be worked into their own liberal mercantile program, they formed a parliamentary committee to investigate the problem. Gustav Waagen, director of the recently opened Altes Museum in Berlin, was prominent among those who testified in 1835 to this Select Committee. Its members were attracted by the reputation of Waagen’s new museum, but they focused more specifically on the school of crafts and industrial arts that he oversaw. When asked about the Committee’s primary purpose—what might be “the best mode of extending taste and a knowledge of the fine arts among the people generally”—Waagen replied, “accessible collections.” He further suggested that the Renaissance connection between workman and artist could be restored by organized educational efforts within such collections.

. . by giving the people an opportunity of seeing the most beautiful objects of art in the particular branch which they follow; by having collections of the most beautiful models of furniture and of different objects of manufacture. . . . It is not enough, however, merely to form these collections; there must also be instruction to teach the people on what principles those models have been formed.8

Not only was it was widely recognized that English art and design industries commanded little respect in the world, it was clear, too, that the museums and schools currently operating in England were not equipped to address the issue as Waagen had recommended. The National Gallery, begun in 1824, was still a private preserve for picture connoisseurs. It would not establish its reputation as an art museum until the third quarter of the century under its first formidable director, Charles Locke Eastlake. The British Museum had a decidedly academic orientation, limiting its collections, beyond ancient art, to objects of historical, scholarly, or ethnographic interest. Until reforms linked to increased government subsidies were initiated in the mid-1830s, the public it embraced was primarily “the curious” among the educated classes who had to apply for tickets in order to gain entrance, then only to be led around its disorganized array of specimens at a frantic pace and often in groups of five to ten (fig. 8).Fig. 8. The Xanthian Room

The Select Committee realized that new institutions had to be established to reach its goal. A School of Design was chartered a few months after the Committee adjourned in 1836. While it initiated a collection in the 1840s, its teaching program was never considered a great success. The opportunity to address English design education arose again, however, in 1851 when, in the wake of the Great Exhibition, the School of Design was incorporated into a museum that opened at Marlborough House under the directorship of Henry Cole.9

By 1853, with the museum and school incorporated into a newly named Department of Science and Art, an organized program of lectures and classes had begun. A staff also had been appointed, including the artist Richard Redgrave, the designer Owen Jones, the erudite German expatriate architect and theoretician Gottfried Semper, and the young connoisseur John Charles Robinson. The government’s charge to Cole and his colleagues was the reform of art and design training in England, a reform that would ultimately improve English goods from an artistic perspective, enabling the country to compete more favorably in foreign markets. What resulted was a museum and associated teaching program brilliantly innovative in adapting that directive to a broader educational purpose, all the while remembering its given audience of artisans, designers, and manufacturers.

From 1857, Cole’s Museum at its South Kensington site became the most imitated and programmatically influential museum of the late nineteenth century. During its first twenty-five years of operation, the South Kensington Museum’s commercially driven mission came to be inextricably integrated with contemporary social ideals associated with the belief in a practical, even moral, education for the working classes through their collective experience of art. This, in turn, had somewhat surprising results in the collections that were formed during the Museum’s earliest years, a period when it virtually cornered the European market on important medieval and Renaissance sculpture and decorative arts.

The scope and ambition of the enterprise created huge audiences of domestic and foreign visitors, resulting in the widely held perception of the Museum’s ex- traordinary success in reaching its goals. Importantly, this perception endured longer abroad than at home. Indeed, the Museum spent much of the last two decades of the nineteenth century extracting itself from charges of confusion of pur-pose arising, on the one hand, from conflicts between its government-mandated mission and the wide variety of collections it often was forced to display and, on the other hand, the staff’s broad and experimental way of articulating the institution’s exhibition and training program. It could even be argued that the legacy of this history of divergent expectation and reality affects the Museum to this day.

South Kensington: Its Program

The purpose the government assigned to the new organization became the foundation of its long-term goals: the founding of a London-based museum with “the most perfect illustrations and models” connected with a “school of the highest class.” South Kensington through its education program would support a system of local schools of industrial science and art, all institutions being “as much self supporting as possible” and all “calculated . . . to aid [commercial] competition . . . in the great neutral markets of the world.”10 Cole would take this directive and broaden its aims to embrace his own museum ideals. His agenda was driven by attitudes that ranged from his belief in public education through visual instruction, to his commitment to establish a National Gallery of British Art in order to promote the importance of British painting. At the root of Cole’s interpretation of his government charge was a more subtly reformative social agenda than the one he was handed. Its foundation lay in Cole’s early engagement with the utilitarian philosophy preached by the followers of Jeremy Bentham, who advanced the concept of “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Their ideas also had convinced Cole that methodical administration, as well as private support of public institutions, would result in social betterment for all.

Cole descended from relatively humble origins. From early in his life, he was given to self-improving pastimes like concerts, lectures, and plays. By the 1840s, while still in his thirties, he had become a manufacturer of modestly priced designer products, a sometime museum critic, and a pamphleteer who eventually came to be trusted by Prince Albert for his special achievements within the thicket of the civil-service bureaucracy. His tenacity and devotion to administrative order had resulted in a complete reform of the Public Record Office early in his career. At the same time, however, Cole had earned a reputation among his civil-service peers as being abrasive, more than slightly impatient, and occasionally opportunistic—a fighter not above a certain deviousness in reaching his goals, no matter how lofty. It seems that he rarely submitted to the role of team player unless he felt he could eventually arrange to be appointed captain.11 One might at first see these characteristics as sorry qualifications for a museum director, but given the expectations assigned to his Museum and the speed of its growth, his personal attributes of administrative efficiency, political adeptness, and a desire to take control can be seen as uniquely apt to his task. Cole’s belief in and commitment to the broad social ideals of his enterprise knew no bounds.

Within five years of taking on the mission of raising design standards in manufacturing for the purpose of advancing national commerce, Cole had expanded the role of the Museum to that of a more public enterprise with a broad educational mandate. In 1852 he had proposed a plan for elementary arts education in cities and towns around the country that would remain in place until the end of the nineteenth century. He also spoke of his institution as being directed to workmen of every vocation. Such educational efforts can be considered commercially purposeful—to indoctrinate the present and future consumer while also training the maker. For a Benthamite idealist like Cole, however, these initiatives also had a more fundamental social benefit. Cole’s broadly based public lecture and publication program to “improve public taste” expanded over time, never compromising the rhetoric identifying South Kensington as a training ground for designers and manufacturers.12 This latter message was driven not only by the Museum’s founding mission, but also by the need to preserve the government funding to keep his vast array of programs alive. Dependence on government support became an institutional condition despite Cole’s—and the government’s—hope that the Museum and school would eventually be self-sustaining.13

It may have been the goal of self-sustainability that made South Kensington such a lively, even market-driven, certainly public relations–conscious enterprise. In this way, Cole and his institution—fighting bureaucracy through expediency in this environment of conflicting values—anticipated museum concerns of the late twentieth century more than any other museum of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In South Kensington’s earliest years an enthusiastic trial-and-error atmosphere permeated the institution. The confident, pragmatic approach to operations by Cole and his staff was to become an Anglo-American museum tradition. Museums in Britain and the United States enjoy common origins in the liberal, civic-minded social philosophy of the time, museums in both countries being supported by a rising business class, whether functioning through the government, as in London, or through the private sector, as in the United States.

To make the Museum’s collections more widely known and understood, catalogues were published that chronicled holdings still in the process of formation. A variety of special exhibitions were arranged that also attracted large audiences. Although a program was developed to circulate some of the Museum’s collections to regional institutions, the educational mission to which Cole was most committed—after the lectures and classes of the school itself—was the documentation of Europe’s artistic treasures through photographs and plaster reproductions.14 In the process, South Kensington positioned itself not only as an educational instrument but as a popular entertainment—crowded on weekends, ever responsive to the audience it actively sought. Cole politicked for regular, inexpensive public transportation to then far-off Kensington. He established the first-ever museum restaurant in 1857, the year his department and collections moved to their permanent South Kensington site.

Admission policy for the Museum also set a precedent. While earlier museums were often tentative about how many people and which social classes should be encouraged to visit, Cole embraced the concept of attracting large numbers of visitors, hoping this audience would extend to every strata of society. In 1857, speaking of the easy access of the working classes to South Kensington, he emphasized that his Museum was open free to the public over half the time, a total of three days and an unprecedented two evenings a week, noting that “at the National Gallery and the British Museum the public are excluded on student or private days. Here it cannot be said there are any private days.”15

South Kensington was a vibrant audience- and education-directed, even populist institution, yet it never tried to veil the narrower economic purpose on which it was founded. It was widely perceived, especially by visiting foreigners and its many advocates abroad, that the Museum was highly successful in reaching its expressed goal of improving manufactured goods. Knowing that its greatest success in public terms today is its ex- traordinary collections, it could be argued that the educational mission of the Museum became separated from the institution’s collecting activity very quickly. Nonetheless, given the optimistic educational philosophy of the time (for Waagen, education was based on “giving people the opportunity of seeing the most beautiful objects”) and given, too, the antiquarian spirit for collecting that has driven England’s museum endeavors since the seventeenth century, it is clear that Cole and his colleagues believed deeply in the reformative power of the exquisite and the old. In fact, the mimetic value of the beautiful was regularly referenced by both Cole and Robinson.16 Working with Robinson’s recommendations, Cole devoted considerable effort, and significant diplomatic and bureaucratic skills, to securing collections of older objects for his Museum. Such purchases were often justified on educational grounds: the acquisition of the Soulages collection (cats. 52, 71, 74, 79), for example, was advocated because “models of the highest excellence [need to be] kept before the eyes of artisans, as an inducement and an encouragement to them to attain the highest degree of excellence.”17

Such mission-enhancing arguments reflect some of the many complicated reasons why vast quantities of old and foreign objects were brought to London. Through such efforts, South Kensington’s collections became truly international, deep and nuanced in virtually all the areas the Museum chose to cover. While early purchases concentrated on Western medieval and Renaissance objects, the Museum’s pedagogical approach to acquisitions and display embraced non-Western objects as well, though these were often presented as exotic examples of special techniques and materials. In this way, Cole expanded the scope of the collections as he articulated his enterprise’s responsibility to represent the range of artistic expression encompassed by the growing British empire.18

The installations, as much as the objects displayed and the lectures presented, were an important component of South Kensington’s educational program. Throughout his career Cole was preoccupied with the visitor’s experience of the Museum galleries and the didactic effectiveness of installations. While we have only a suggestion of how the earliest rooms at Marlborough House were arranged (to a large degree they were organized by material), we can assume, given Cole’s introductory gallery of “Examples of False Principles in Decoration,” that they also embraced teaching goals.19 During Robinson’s tenure, the educational function of the displays remained, but their interpretive direction and appearance moved from Cole’s perspectives favoring training and rules, to Robinson’s primary aim of fostering aesthetic judgment.

Like most connoisseurs of medieval and Renaissance objects, Robinson had been impressed early in his life by the romantically historicizing environments that Alexandre Du Sommerard had created at Cluny, the much-visited and admired Paris house that became an even more influential museum on Du Sommerard’s death in 1842 (fig. 9).Fig. 9. An interior of the Hôtel de Clumy After Robinson’s arrival, Marlborough House maintained some of the materials-specific installations with which it opened in 1852—one display case containing only ceramics, another presenting metalwork (fig. 10). The overriding goal, however, seems to have been the juxtaposition of dissimilar objects for aesthetic effect, much as the Musée de Cluny was arranged. Given Robinson’s expressed views on the educational value of the experience of art, these displays also served a didactic purpose, broadly conceived.20 When an “Art Museum” opened at South Kensington, separate from the other galleries in the Museum, it was installed on aesthetic principles, with objects of different origin, scale, and medium artfully juxtaposed in an attempt to evoke the atmosphere of a grand domestic environment. An early sixteenth-century carved Flemish altarpiece from Ghent was displayed along with a contemporary Minton vase, two seventeenth-century Roman Baroque busts, mirrors, paintings, wall reliefs of various periods, and an eighteenth-century German secretary—all integrated by reproductions of the pilasters and lunettes from Raphael’s Loggia at the Vatican. Standing in the center of this eclectic assemblage, surveying its abundance, was a full-scale plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David.

The antiquarian ideals of the second quarter of the nineteenth century, so evocatively articulated in the Fig. 10. One of the galleries of the Museum of Ornamental Artcollections and installations at Cluny, now would be manifested in the larger and more educationally mandated galleries of the early South Kensington museum. While justified as serving a practical purpose, these collections also represent a special taste for the rare, the old, and the beautiful, an aesthetic antiquarianism that one could argue represents a telling nuance in the character of English culture from the seventeenth century to the present. In no other country has collecting become a national exercise practiced with such persistence and in so many different directions. In no other country is the phrase “national treasure” bandied about so effectively as a rationale to purchase objects created long ago and somewhere else for its public museums. While the extraordinary collections brought together at the early Victoria and Albert Museum were presented as educational models essential for commercial advancement, Robinson’s intricate search and negotiation tactics, and Cole’s deep-seated belief in collection growth, reflect a cultural aspiration far more complex than would be evident in any government acquisition report.

The origins of England’s insistent antiquarianism lay in the desire among its elite, never confident of their own artistic heritage, to gather the material manifestations of admired societies and favored pasts together as a testament to English learning, worldly experience, and power. Young English gentlemen on the grand tour of Europe supported the art of connoisseurship in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries not only as a learned attribute, but as protection against the many on the Continent anxious to maximize the price of any object, real or imitation, whose context and function were about to change as it traveled north to an English domestic setting. In the industrial era, Britain’s home manufacturing and colonial outposts grew, producing extraordinary wealth and a newly rich middle class eager to acquire the trappings of educated gentlemen. An obsession with history deepened, stemming from an aristocratic quest for stability through reverence for the old and an urge to preserve what would never be produced again—to care for it and to pass it on to posterity.

In many countries, particularly in the later nineteenth century, collecting was driven by a nationalist longing to return to the purity of folk traditions being lost through industrialization. England, however, with its strong economy and far-flung colonial outposts, thought more internationally. Beyond the thrill of possession and intellectual attainment, picking and choosing from the chattels of earlier societies enabled Victorians to achieve an educational objective of increasing importance to them: the creation of better things in their own time. This was one of the motives that made England believe that collecting on the vast scale, as initiated at South Kensington, was necessary to overcome the deficiencies of a culture deprived.21

During the 1840s and 1850s, medieval and Renaissance objects largely displaced antiquities as the all-consuming collecting passion of the erudite aesthete. For propagandists such as A. W. N. Pugin and Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who believed in the religious and moral purity of the art of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, the objects brought together at South Kensington must have been impressive. With collections that countered the British Museum’s extensive holdings of Greek and Roman art, with the Museum’s commitment to social improvement and commercial advancement, and with its wildly popular programs, it is not surprising that South Kensington’s international fame was marked, even among the toughest Continental critics. As the French art historian and Inspector General Charles Yriarte told an English parliamentary committee: “Today, for all of us foreigners South Kensington is a mecca. England there possesses the entire art of Europe and the East, their spiritual manifestations under all forms, and Europe has been swept into the stream in imitation of England.”22

South Kensington: Its International Influence

As the words of Yriarte attest, the success of the first twenty years of the Victoria and Albert Museum was so acclaimed throughout the world that a number of other institutions were created in its likeness. As we have seen, England’s efforts in design education had begun in the 1830s, driven by the British government’s competition with European countries that already had schools or associations devoted to the teaching or display of industrial arts. France had taken the lead in these early efforts, although by the second quarter of the nineteenth century many such organizations existed in Austria and Germany as well. By 1860, however, nothing on the scale of South Kensington, nothing with as broad a public scope or a effective an educational program as the English initiative, existed on the continent.

European fear of England's imminent rise in arts manufacturing began in the aftermath of the Great Exhibition of 1851, when even the French began to worry that their dominance in the field of decorative arts and design might not last forever. Compte Léon de Laborde and others argued for schools of applied arts that would replace the existing schools and the still active apprentice system. Indeed, a private organisation was established, L'Union Centrale des Beaux-Arts Appliqués à l'Industrie, to maintain French design superiority through organised classes and regular exhibitions. A museum of decorative arts sponsored by the Union Centrale opened in 1864 and still operates today, as the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.23

By the early 1860s, the fame of South Kensington's Museum and school, as well as the reputation of Henry Cole, was well established in Austria and Germany, but the institution was interpreted somewhat differently there due to the enormous impact of the architect and theorist Gottfried Semper. In London as a refugee from the German uprisings of 1848, Semper was overwhelmed by the Great Exhibition, where the assembled industrial works of modern mechanised societies and the sophisticated ornament and traditional design of non-Western cultures were all displayed w3ith bold and unconditional belief in industrial progress. While working at the Exhibition he wrote a pamphlet, Science, Industry and Art, summarising the importance of the 1851 event. Intrigued by Semper, Cole had earlier recommended him as a Great Exhibition designer and published one of Semper's articles in the December 1851 issue of the Journal of Design. In 1852 Cole decided to test the architect's skills further by commissioning him to write a catalogue on the nature and history of metalwork, which resulted in Semper's appointment to a teaching position later that year. After attending Semper's first public lecture in May 1853, Cole described it as "thoughtful and suggestive" in his ordinarily opinion-free diaries.24

Like Waagen, Semper brought the theoretical sophistication of German history and aesthetics to decisions that would fundamentally affect the South Kensington enterprise. His Science, Industry and Art probably prompted the 1853 renaming of Cole's enterprise to the Department of Science and Art.25 The German-born Prince Albert, also impressed by Semper, commissioned him to create a master plan for South Kensington's building complex. It was rejected in 1855 by a government committee, resulting in Prince Albert's endorsement of the infamous Brompton Boilers, the temporary iron structures that in the opinion of many, including Cole, blighted the site until they were substantially removed in 1866. Semper moved to Zurich soon after his building scheme was rejected but he continued to be admired by many in London, including Cole, who hoped the architect would eventually return to teach at South Kensington.26

Semper's influence on the Continent has been seen as more wide-ranging than in England, yet it was during his London years that he developed his theories, theories that one might think would have been fundamental to South Kensington's reformative purpose. In Science, Industry and Art, Semper has prophetically recognised that the forces of industrialization and capitalism were destroying the historical basis of art. His conclusions, however, were optimistic: "… this process of disintegrating existing art types must be completed by industry, by speculation, and by applied science before something good and new can result."27 Semper went on to formulate a revolutionary and innovative theory that disregarded subject matter, which had been the foundation of academic criticism since the sixteenth century. He focused instead on the symbolic nature of individual motifs in objects and the transformation of their meaning in varying situations of production and cultural environments. Semper saw the artistic manipulation of material, technique, and motif as central to the creation of symbolic form. His system, as published in 1860, effectively resulted in the theoretical marriage of the fine and applied arts.28

Semper's ideas were immediately taken up by museums given the task of mimicking the success and addressing the commercial challenge of South Kensington. His perspectives not only elevated the status of the applied art object and the industrial artist, with which these new museums were concerned, they created an ordering system based on materials, a system that museum professionals felt could be applied to both libraries and museum installations. Semper's four main divisions of classification - ceramics and glass, metalwork, textiles, and furniture and woodwork - gave a more purposeful rationale to the materials-based presentations that had occurred haphazardly since the days of Kunstkammer, lending greater seriousness to the mission of the applied arts museum in the process.

It was in Vienna in the mid-1860's, at the newly formed applied arts museum, where Semper's ideas were first utilised. Rudolf von Eitelberger, an art history professor, was sent by the Austrian government to the 1862 International Exhibition in London. The government supported Eitelberger's recommendation that a museum be founded to advance the country's earlier efforts to improve the design of objects for daily use. A permanent building was planned for the new museum in the mid 1860's by Heinrich von Ferstal, an avid admirer of Semper (fig.11).Fig. 11. The Österreichisches Museum Eitelberger corresponded with the German architect, eventually receiving from him a copy of the Practical Metals catalogue that Cole has commissioned in 1852. In the end, Semper's ideas regarding a scientific ordering by material were adapted to the Viennese museum's library, a system that is maintained to this day. His theories as adapted by Ferstal and Eitelberger also governed the installation of the museum, which was meant to mirror the library in organisation and purpose.29

From the mid 1850's until the end of the century, museums of applied arts were established throughout the world on South Kensington's model. The Industrial Museum of Scotland (later the Royal Scottish Museum) in Edinburgh was opened in 1860 by Cole's own Department of Science and Art, and South Kensington served as a model, directly or indirectly, for a number of museums within the British Empire, including one in Bombay (1855) and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto (1912). Anxious to direct South Kensington's training philosophy to less industrialized populations, civic and national governments as well as local manufacturers and trade associations supported museums with ambitious training programs in Moscow (1868), Budapest (1872), Brno (1873), Zagreb (1880), Prague (1884).

The applied arts museum movement took root in Scandinavia with the founding of Oslo's applied arts museum in 1876 and the Kunstindustrimuseum in Copenhagen in 1890. Because of Arthur Hazelius's successful and highly influential Nordiska Museet in Stockholm (opened in 1873 as the Scandinavian Ethnographical Collection and renamed in 1880), and applied arts department eventually was integrated in the largely painting - and sculpture - oriented National Museum. This is one of the few instances in Western Europe in which a broadly focused decorative arts department was combined with departments of painting and sculpture in a national museum, a model that is so common among civic museums of the United States. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, however, represents the most significant European example of this integration. Victor de Stuers, one of the principal planners of the building that still houses the museum, recommended that the new structure not only be a monument to Dutch art and history, but, like South Kensington, also incorporate a training school for artists. The original plans, finished in 1876, included an enormous gallery for the display of both large, and small, scale sculpture and applied arts, a vast navelike space that imitated South Kensington's North and South Courts completed a few years before.

Italy's efforts to advance training in the applied arts lead to the establishment of museums in Milan and Bologna, but the most important was Rome's industrial arts museum, founded in 1872 by the city government in part due to an articulate and powerful proponent, Prince Baldassare Odaschalchi. Throughout the 1870's the prince expressed himself eloquently, not only on the sorry state of Italian industrial production, but also on the pillaging of the Italian artistic heritage for the purpose of educating Northern designers at museums like South Kensington.30

At the same time, while Japanese art was increasingly referenced by Western aesthetes, the Japanese government asked the administrators of South Kensington to consult on the establishment of an Imperial Museum in Tokyo. The designer Christopher Dresser was sent to Japan by the V&A with a donation of English objects and with the additional directive to advise authorities on their proposed museum installations.

It was in Germany, however, where the teaching and exhibition programs of South Kensington where most imitated. In the twenty-five years following the 1864 inauguration of Vienna's decorative arts museum, thirty such museums were founded in various German cities.31 Berlin's museum project began at the instigation of Crown Princess Victoria, who followed her father Prince Albert's interest in arts and industry by sending a government official, Hermann Schwabe to England to examine South Kensington and its programs. His published report led to the establishment of a museum of applied arts in 1867, and a school was begun a following year. The entire collection of the extraordinarily prescient Institut Minutoli was soon absorbed into that of the new museum, and Berlin's Kunstgewerbemuseum became one of the most important applied arts institutions in the Continent.32 By 1880, under the leadership of it renowned director Julius Lessing, the Berlin museum moved to a building designed by Martin Gropius, which, with its central court and surrounding galleries, mimicked the neo-Renaissance architecture that Captain Francis Fowke had completed in 1869 for South Kensington.

Lessing followed a Semperian system of displaying objects in most of his new museum's galleries, but he was also a leader in establishing a different direction for applied arts installations in Germany, one which sort to arrange objects culturally and historically, mixing mediums in one gallery to simulate domestic environments rather than separating objects by material. Another leading director of a German museum, Justus Brinckmann, later discussed these new objectives in relation to his Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg:"…[A] technological and foundation." His institution's most significant task, he said, would now be directed toward "exhibiting objects according to their natural living context… [a method] which has long since been recognised by ethnographic museums.33

Brinkmann promoted his views on installation, with their contemporary parallels in culturally based art history and in the emerging field of anthropology, both to combat the historical revivalism he felt had been caused by "artists weaned from their own creativity and pushed towards a superficial eclecticism," and to focus his museum on a broader public, one that extended beyond that of artisans and manufacturers. As the modern movement began, applied arts museums throughout Germany began to reorganize their installations along cultural and historical lines. The movement had a parallel development in museums of fine arts through the influential work of Director Wilhelm von Bode, whose Kaiser Frieddrich Museum in Berlin opened in 1904 to international acclaim.34

Brinkmann began his career as an adamant follower of Semper and his ideas. Recognizing the depth and subtlety of Semper's thinking, he introduced his perspectives endorsing a more cultural and historical direction in installations by quoting from Semper's Science, Industry and Art. Brinkmann rightly separated the breadth, range and cultural understanding of Semper's thought from the materials-based installations that were to become so associated with his reputation, a reputation derived from the practical application of his ideas by his many museum followers: "Collections and public monuments are the true teachers of a free people. They are not merely the teachers of practical exercises, but more importantly the schools of public taste."35

South Kensington: Its Influence in the United States

When the South Kensington Museum opened in the 1850s, only a handful of institutions in America exhibited objects considered to be works of art for public enjoyment and instruction. Some were art schools, like Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Academy and New York's National Academy of Design, while others were libraries or historical societies, like the Boston Athenaeum, the New-York Historical Society, the Peabody Museum in Salem, and the Brooklyn Institute (now the Brooklyn Museum of Art). Only the Wadsworth Atheneum, established in 1842 in Hartford, Connecticut, could have been considered-like art museums today-an organization whose primary public purpose centered on the exhibition of a permanent collection of art objects. The situation was to change completely by the end of the nineteenth century. The international fame of the South Kensington Museum and its schools, and the belief in the success of the English enterprise, were in no small measure responsible for this revolution in the United States. Throughout the late 1860s and 1870s, the South Kensington example was invoked to motivate America's business and education leaders to establish art museums in a number of cities, each with an avowed purpose of public service through education.

While South Kensington was the catalytic agent that motivated civic and business leaders, education was the battle cry. As Charles Perkins wryly observed in 1870, the opening year of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, which he helped found: "We may safely say that as a nation we should be totally indifferent if all the works of art in the world were to vanish into space." He emphasized, therefore, that the special mission of any art museum movement in the United States had to be "collecting material for the education of a nation in art, not at making collections of objects of art."36

Given this perception of the country's deficiencies in art education in the mid-nineteenth century, it is not surprising that a number of teaching institutions were established whose primary purpose was to organize art classes; a somewhat secondary emphasis was placed on museum collections as teaching tools. In 1853, for example, the nine-year-old Philadelphia School of Design for Women became a part of the Franklin Institute, which is still in operation. That same year, iron magnate Peter Cooper laid the cornerstone in Manhattan for the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, which to this day maintains the practice of free tuition for all its students. Space for a "museum of history, art and science" was prepared on the top floor of the Cooper Union building, which opened in 1859 to the design of Frederick A. Peterson, but it never reached its potential in the school's early years. Not until 1897, and only because of the efforts of Cooper's devoted granddaughters, the Misses Hewitt, was a museum of decorative arts-primarily for the use of the school's students-established on that site. Today the Cooper-Hewitt Museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution and occupies the former mansion of industrialist Andrew Carnegie on New York's Upper East Side. It has become the National Museum of Design in the United States.

Some of the largest and most effective schools were established in the wake of the highly influential 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, where South Kensington's achievements in raising the standards of England's arts industries were touted to the visiting crowds. The purpose of New Haven's Connecticut Museum of Industrial Art, chartered in the months following the Centennial's closing, was "as that upon which the South Kensington is founded." The most prominent teaching institution begun in the wake of Philadelphia's exhibition, however, was the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, established in 1877 by the Women's Centennial Commission of Rhode Island. The Commission hoped their "good School of Design with a subsidiary Gallery of Art . . . would benefit all classes and both sexes as the experience of English schools had already proved." Already in 1854 the Rhode Island Art Association had been created to establish "a permanent Art Museum and Gallery of the Arts of Design . . . cultivating and promoting the Ornamental and Useful Arts." The Rhode Island School of Design quickly moved to establish a museum, which today remains Providence's principal art gallery.37

A nationally supported museum focused on training in the decorative arts did not take root in the United States-as it had in virtually every European country by 1900-largely because the American art museum movement itself sprang from the very motivations that brought about the applied arts museum movement abroad, namely, a concern for better training facilities for "objects of beauty and utility." A pragmatic self-improvement ethic directed at advancing business and commerce had been fostered in the New World long before John Adams, in 1789, recommended the study of "the useful, the mechanic arts." With that ethic came an equally deep-seated skepticism of the fine arts and their capacity for contributing to the self-prescribed task of expanding the country and capitalizing on its natural resources. For these reasons, Charles Perkins and his contemporaries believed that while America's cultural institutions might perform a useful purpose integrating practical art and education, such an effort could never be supported by the government. Museums would have to result from the joint effort and financial commitment of the country's civic leaders. Therefore, the "carrot" of commercial prosperity attained through artistic enterprise prompted the commitment of America's businessmen to the art museum movement. As the movement evolved, it was further driven by a complex set of motivations, ranging from civic duty and personal recognition, to the transfer of the homogeneous values of America's elite to the country's broad, mostly immigrant underclass.

South Kensington was consistently the referenced model in the rhetoric behind virtually every American art museum founded in the 1870s. The references were never more explicit, however, than in the boosterish words accompanying the founding of the Cincinnati Art Museum. Between 1877 and 1880 a well- orchestrated effort inspired by the Centennial Exposition and led by the Women's Art Museum Association of Cincinnati promoted the founding of a permanent art museum, using the appeal of South Kensington's success to support its cause. A number of lectures, including two talks on South Kensington-the first given by one of the city's foremost citizens, Charles P. Taft-focused on the benefits of an art museum to the city's industry. The effort was further enhanced by a regular series of classes offered by the Association and a loan exhibition comprised of more than two thousand objects drawn from local private collections. As a result of this concerted drive, in 1880 Charles W. West announced that he would give $150,000 toward the establishment of a new museum, provided that his gift was equaled by public subscription. Within four weeks his gift was matched and plans for a museum building were begun. The Cincinnati Art Museum opened in 1886 on its present site in Eden Park (fig. 12).38Fig. 12. The Cincinnati Art Museum

It was through such focused efforts on the part of citizen groups that most of the large, urban art museums of the United States were formed. While individual histories vary, the ever-present conditions of the museum building movement included local pride that drove competition of both a civic and commercial kind, as well as a belief among the educated population in the moral and practical value of art education. In certain cities, as in Cincinnati, it was women's groups that served as the organizational catalysts. In 1877, the all-female Chicago Society of Decorative Art was founded. Its effect on the city's male business leaders in establishing the Art Institute of Chicago is demonstrated by the fact that the Society's program was quickly integrated with that of the art museum once that organization was established. In other cities, the educational program of South Kensington was promoted by teachers of art and design who were the primary catalysts to local initiatives in founding museums. Halsey Cooley Ives, a drawing instructor at Washington University in St. Louis, promoted Cole's work after his return from a study trip to England in 1875. In part through his efforts, the Saint Louis Art Museum opened in 1879.39

The Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., was founded in 1859 when banker William W. Corcoran made his private collection available to the public. Following the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, with its encouragement of civic initiatives in art education, a school of design connected with the Gallery opened in 1878. That the centennial celebration was an important agent in bringing South Kensington's achievements to public awareness is most clearly demonstrated in Philadelphia itself. The Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art-later to become the Philadelphia Museum of Art-was chartered on the eve of the Exposition as both a "perpetual" source of "improvement and equipment" and an educational organization "to develop the Art Industries of the State." The museum cited South Kensington specifically in its charter and, almost as a reminder of the English museum's origins in the Great Exhibition, was located in the Exposition's main building, Memorial Hall, for years thereafter.40

Philadelphia's Centennial Exposition was not the only means by which the example of South Kensington was transmitted to America's civic community. The two largest art museums in the country-the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York-were each chartered in 1870. When compared to museums founded in the five years following the Philadelphia Exposition, it is apparent that the value of South Kensington's programs and collections was integrated more subtly into the charters of these earlier museums. The South Kensington model still served these large eastern urban centers, however, as a rallying point for civic action.

The Metropolitan Museum was established for the stated purpose of "encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts, and the application of arts to manufacture and practical life." It was chartered one year after a famous dinner at the Union League Club during which a room full of New York's wealthy and powerful listened to a program of speeches following a lengthy address by the renowned American literary figure William Cullen Bryant. Each of the evening's presentations extolled the benefits of an art museum to a city like New York. The rhetoric was geared to an audience of the potentially social-minded and guilt-ridden who, like so many of the rich at the time, believed that an expansion in the number of public high schools, universities, and morally uplifting cultural organizations might be an antidote to the ills perpetrated on the country by industrialization and rapid growth.

Invited speakers included the architect Richard Morris Hunt and Henry Cole's brother, each of whom planted the practical program and potential economic advantage of a South Kensington-style institution in the minds of all present. By 1875 the fledgling museum was exhibiting "reproductions of works of art [from the] South Kensington Museum" on the ground floor of its temporary quarters. The success of the English museum in establishing an effective rationale for the new enterprise is evident in the remarks of Metropolitan Museum trustee Joseph Choate, who referred to South Kensington frequently in his 1880 address opening the first building in Central Park.41

The primary advocate for the establishment of a South Kensington-style institution in Boston, Charles C. Perkins, developed his commitment through a personal knowledge of the English museum, making his advocacy the most sophisticated of any founding American museum trustee. Given a project in which the integration of the interests of business, art, and social enterprise was essential, Perkins had established links with each constituency. Grandson of a wealthy China trade merchant, he had studied art in Europe and authored books on Italian sculpture. Through his research, Perkins had met several of the South Kensington officials. In 1869, as chairman of a special committee of the American Social Science Association considering art from an educational perspective, he touted the value of appreciating the beautiful in nature and art as a prelude to proposing the establishment of institutions throughout the country based on South Kensington's model.42

Boston's museum effort also included the involvement of the city's many institutions of higher education, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology among them. Perkins's views, therefore, had to be integrated with those of his colleague trustees, some of whom favored the British Museum model over that of South Kensington. Due to Perkins's efforts, the Museum of Fine Arts effectively combined both museological perspectives in its earliest years. He made sure, however, that a representative of the Lowell School of Industrial Design was represented on the board. He also personally consulted with Cole in the 1871 hiring of Walter Smith, an English graduate of South Kensington who was picked by the Boston school board to begin a drawing program in the city.43

At the inauguration of the museum's first building (fig. 13),Fig. 13. Museum of FIne Arts whose architecture was closely modeled on South Kensington, Perkins stated his hope that it "would be a rival . . . of the great industrial museums at Kensington and Vienna."44 The museum strived to do so in its installations from the beginning. While its ground-floor galleries were devoted to a few ancient artifacts and numerous casts of sculpture (fig. 14), on its second floor, in the words of a contemporary spokesperson, "the 'South Kensington' aspect develops." A variety of Western Fig.14. Entrance to the Copley Square Buildingand Eastern objects were displayed in these galleries, along with the first period paneling ever mounted in an American museum, a sixteenth-century carved oak surround intended to enhance an installation of furniture, sculpture, and armor (fig. 15). A Boston museum supporter, writing of his city's effort and that of all American art institutions of the time, noted that "the success of the South Kensington Museum is the corner-stone of our art museums."45

While a cornerstone it certainly was, by the mid-1880s the South Kensington model had lostFig.15. The Lawrence Room much of the power it earlier had demonstrated in galvanizing the American museum movement. This was no doubt due in part to the criticism the institution had begun to receive in England. That criticism reflected more than just the failed leadership of those administrators who came to power in the years after Cole's 1873 retirement. A different intellectual environment, an evolved social and aesthetic value system in both England and the United States, was affecting public expectations of museums. By the turn of the century, American institutions increasingly focused on more culturally centered displays and emphasized the historical and aesthetic importance of the individual works on view, paintings in particular. As in German museums of the time, less emphasis was placed on the material and technical attributes of objects considered so important to the training of designers, artisans, and manufacturers.

In addition, toward the turn of the century the international museum world was ever more distracted by the competitive atmosphere of collection enhancement, symbolized so publicly by the rise of influential art dealers like that of the Duveen firm in London and New York. With museums and their private supporters intent on acquiring expertise, whether through professionals employed by museums, such as Wilhelm von Bode at the Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, or those outside the museum world, such as the paintings expert Bernard Berenson, an altered museological value system expressed itself through a growing shift in institutional priorities.

When J. P. Morgan became president of the Metropolitan Museum in 1905, he deemphasized the institution's well-established rhetoric of education through design training and began to direct the museum far more toward the aesthetic standards of objects on display. While Morgan succeeded in convincing the V&A's director, Sir Caspar Purdon Clarke, to head the Metropolitan in 1905, Clarke's tenure was not considered a great success. The prominent English critic Roger Fry's appointment as paintings curator, in the same year that Clarke arrived in New York, signaled an institutional shift toward collecting masterpieces. In addition, a more historically and culturally centered presentation of applied arts was assured when Bode's assistant, Wilhelm Valentiner, was hired as decorative arts curator in 1907. In spite of these changes, the purpose of teaching New York's designers and craftsmen was maintained, not only in the Metropolitan Museum's education program, but through the establishment of a Department of Industrial Relations in 1916, a department that began to organize a series of annual exhibitions highlighting the country's most recent industrial products. Those exhibitions continued until World War II, when the function was assumed by the young Museum of Modern Art.46

Unlike the Metropolitan Museum, since 1877 Boston's Museum of Fine Arts had advanced its educational role by supporting a separate art school within the museum. Because Boston's art school included the study of industrial art, the museum was able to back away even more easily than the Metropolitan from a dedicated commitment to applied arts training in its galleries. By the opening years of the twentieth century, Boston's ties to its South Kensington roots became very tenuous indeed. The break became imminent when the museum initiated plans to leave its original South Kensington-style building on Copley Square and move to the structure it still occupies along the Fenway. The arrangement of the new building not only incorporated the views of the museum's influential secretary, Benjamin Ives Gilman, who would establish an international reputation for himself promoting the primary aesthetic role of the art museum, it also drew on the principles underlying the highly praised galleries of Bode's Kaiser Friedrich Museum. The Boston museum's building committee visited Berlin soon after its museum opened. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, eventually created a two-level program for the presentation of its collections, an approach that came to be recognized around the world. Primary galleries emphasized singular masterpiece objects presented whenever

possible in culturally evocative displays, while other rooms were set aside for dense installations intended for a more learned audience of collectors and scholars. This type of organization was to be adopted by a number of museums in the United States and elsewhere in the twentieth century. Leigh Ashton would eventually reinstall the Victoria and Albert Museum on these principles in the late 1940s.47

From South Kensington To The V&A

Only Cole-the art and education idealist, the civil servant as impresario, the lobbyist without compare-could balance the design and commerce, education and art edification goals of South Kensington and shape them into a program that could be received positively by both the public and its government representatives. When he retired, the house of cards he balanced began to dissolve under the oversight of lesser men. Criticism mounted as the English art world sensed a power vacuum and an institutional loss of direction, but, in truth, ill feeling had already surfaced at Cole's retirement in 1873 with the abortive attempt to have the best of South Kensington's collections taken over by the British Museum. The Department of Science and Art began to look confused, inelegant, ineffective.

Between 1880 and 1910 the Museum slowly reconditioned itself, focusing its objectives on its multifarious collections-collections reflective of its earlier and more diverse, albeit somewhat scattershot, programs. Institutional reconditioning began in 1880 with the move of modern manufactured objects to Bethnal Green, and it ended with the 1909 establishment of a separate Science Museum at South Kensington, the solution finally arrived at to manage the Semperian vision of "Science being reunited with Art" that had helped to spawn the confusion in the first place. The most significant action taken during this period of reform was the creation of materials-based curatorial departments in 1897. A few years later, with complete awareness of the trend toward cultural and historical displays, the Museum opted to reform its installations along lines established during its earliest years. The 1908 committee on display embraced what were then considered to be the founding installation principles of Cole's enterprise, the exhibition of objects by material and technique, in order to better serve the museum's primary designer and craftsman audience (fig. 16)Fig.16. The Ironwork Gallery.

This reformation, however, eventually resulted in a tradition of scholarship that had little to do with Cole's ideals and was in no way reflective of Semper's. A new generation of young scholars began to work for the museum in the 1890s.

Eventually they deepened as they reformed the scholarly role of the Museum by applying the disciplined historical and aesthetic concerns of turn-of-the-century art criticism to the decorative arts. In the process, the Museum turned further away from contemporary art as well as from the institution's elaborate regional education programs for both beginning and intermediate students. It focused instead on collection care and advancement, with a highly educated audience in mind. The new intellectual direction of the Museum, developed and nurtured over most of the twentieth century, combined contemporary taxonomic concerns with the English national tradition of erudite antiquarian expertise. Together, these commitments fostered a system of connoisseurship based on materials, technique, and the empirical understanding of an object's history that had never been achieved before and probably never will again. Its refinement and accomplishment were such that by the middle decades of the twentieth century, the international stature of the Victoria and Albert Museum as a source of object-specific knowledge in the decorative arts was unparalleled.

As the V&A moved into the late twentieth century, however, the academic rigor given primacy in the institution increasingly appeared to be out of step with the interests and demographics of a dramatically expanding national and international museum audience. It began to occur to some at the V&A that sustaining the narrow world of art scholars who practiced a life of connoisseurship-a word, indeed, which few members of the potential new museum-going public could even define-clearly threatened the viability, perhaps even the survival, of the institution. The Museum's directors in the last quarter of the twentieth century moved to update institutional practices, broaden intellectual perspectives, and to focus again on the designer and craftsman audience to which the Museum was originally directed and from which it had become disengaged.

Confronting, in many ways, that very environment of conflicting values overseen by Cole and Robinson in the nineteenth century, the tug of war between scholarship and accessibility seems to remain unresolved within the institution today, much as it remains unresolved in the museum world as a whole. The schism between these two institutional directions, however, is somehow magnified at the V&A, no doubt because it is this Museum that is so central to our historical comprehension of the elusive educational dream in Western museum culture.

Our continuing respect for the Museum in the final analysis has as much to do with its collecting achievement as with the articulation of its educational mandate so influential to so many subsequent museum enterprises. The collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum comprise more than four million objects-countless works of art of unique significance and aesthetic excellence that have been and will be appreciated by generations past, present, and future. These collections also constitute a priceless archive reflecting a changing canon variously interpreted and displayed over time, a canon that evolved out of the aesthetic, social, and political fabric shaping the Museum over the century and a half of its existence. The V&A's treasures and all that they signify define an institution that remains one of Britain's greatest contributions to the international artistic legacy we all share.

Taft, 1878, p. 10. John Adams’s attitude is expressed in the letter to his wife that
concludes his often quoted perspective on generational progress: “I must study politics
and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy...
in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture,
statuary, tapestry, and porcelain” (John Adams to Abigail Adams, 1780, in Adams,
1876, p. 381).
These words from the “Influence of the South Kensington Museum” were underlined by William T. WaIters in his personal copy of the catalogue for the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle (“First Group”), 1889, p. 15. (I am grateful to William R. Johnston of Baltimore’s Walters Art Gallery for this information.)
Menzhausen, 1985, pp. 69-75.
Neverov, 1985, pp. 54-61.
McClellan, 1994, pp. 124-54.
In 1865, Henry Cole made a study of the Conservatoire and his notes are in the National Art Library, V&A (55.AA.56.f.97). See also Tise, 1991, pp.1-5; Froissart, 1994, pp. 83-90; and Conforti, in press [1997].
For Vienna’s response to the French Ecole and Conservatoire, see Lackner and Mikoletsky, 1995, pp. 29-42.
Select Committee. Report from the Select Committee Appointed…,1835-36.
The Museum opened in May 1852. 11 appears that Cole and Prince Albert initially looked to the British Museum as a source of collections: Cole’s diary chronicles a meeting in which the prince discussed his plan “to buy plenty of ground at Kensington to provide Collection of History of Manufactures, Lectures and c. to reform school of design to Call it College of Applied Art....I agreed that to bring there the overflowings of the Brit Mus: wd aid all other proceedings in that neighborhood.” Cole Diaries, entry for 5 January 1852.
Privy Council, 1853, p. 27.
For Cole’s early background and administrative attributes, see Cooper, 1992. For Benthamism, see Nesbit, 1966, pp. 20-37.
Cole's belief in the power of his institution to advance the level of public taste grew with each year. His aims were already evident in a lecture, "On Public Taste in Kensington,” 5 April1853 (Cole Miscellanies, vol. XI, f.8), in which he connects the future establishment of the school and Museum to a broad educational objective that he understood to have commercial benefit. In 1857 Cole was even successful in arranging for his Department of Science and Art to report to the Education Minister rather than the Board of Trade.
Cole realized the education of the consumer was fundamental to the Museum's role and he referred to it both in his early years at the Museum and after his retirement. For one of the first of the now common studies focusing on the indoctrination of the Museum's consumer audience (and its parallels to the development of the department store in the late nineteenth century), see N. Harris, 1990.
For an interpretation of South Kensington's role in advancing consumer demand, see Purbrick, 1994.
Cole's hope that South Kensington might be self-supporting is suggested by an 1853 lecture in which he asks that Kensington residents tax themselves "as a parish" to make such an institution possible (Cole Miscellanies, vol. XI, f.8). As time went on, however, and significant public support appeared out of reach, Cole changed his perspective by suggesting that government support was the only way to ensure public purpose (Cole Miscellanies, vol. XV, f.48).
The circulation of objects from the collections, a fundamental requirement in the government mandate, began in 1854 (Department of Science and Art, 1881 [Ed.84.29] ) .Cole's acquisition of photographic, electrotype, and plaster reproductions began early in the institution’s history (Cole Miscellanies, vol. IX, f.282) and continued through his directorship, when his foreign travel was often consumed with adding to the Museum's collection of copies.
Cole lecture, The Functions of the Science and Art Department. While one cannot generalize on admission policies in eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century European museums, most considered their "public" to be aristocrats, learned individuals, or artists. Often they were allowed to visit a collection only upon application or on certain days of the week. Admission fees were also fairly commonplace. Cole, therefore, took special pride in his introduction of evening hours, and in the number of days South Kensington was available free of charge, making it more accessible to the working classes than any museum at the time.
Cole spent much of his first official report in 1853 discussing teaching by example (Cole Miscellanies, vol. IX, f.80). In 1860 when John Charles Robinson testified to the Select Committee, he summarized institutional attitudes on the use of objects for educational purposes: "I do not consider that the mere reproduction of the things we have got is the right use, nor do I think it a principal one, but I think that manufacturers and workmen, and students, get a general education at the museum for having fine examples before them" (Select Committee, 1860, p. 109).
Cole Miscellanies, vol. VII, f.223. The effort Cole went through to secure great collections is first evidenced in his work acquiring the Gherardini sculpture models (Cole Diaries, 1854, entries for March 13,20,27, and April 10, 13).
Already in 1853, Marlborough House displays included a "specimen of Mexican pottery...[a] Ceylon sword...2 Chinese filigree bracelets" (Cole Miscellanies, vol. IX, f.80). After citing the purchases of Indian objects from the Great Exhibition of 1851, Cole in 1866 justified broadening the Indian collections to casts of architectural elements, "[as] India and the United Kingdom are under the same sovereign, it appears most desirable to obtain a complete representation of Indian architecture for South Kensington" (Cole Miscellanies, vol. XIV, f.49).
Cole was an avid critic of all aspects of a museum's public face, including its installations. As early as 1842 in a pamphlet on the British Museum, he complained of works of art "hung so high, that the label attached to them cannot be deciphered" (Cole Miscellanies, vol. VII, f.51). The journals of his trips abroad are filled with the observations of a serious museum professional and critic. On an 1863 trip he worried in the Salle d'Apollon at the Louvre that the "real magnificence and finesse of the objects are overpowered by the splendor of the room." In Berlin, he complains of no W.C. before revealing his own aesthetic inclinations about the works on view. "...the collections here have been made from a learned point of view rather than of
art....but no cost has been spared to set off the collection" \ Cole, "Notes on a Journey to Vienna...;' pp. 3, 29) .
Robinson spoke of installation practice in educational terms as early as 1854. "...the judicious arrangement and juxtaposition of specimens for comparison...facilitate[s] the deduction of those abstract laws and principles, a proper acquaintance with which is the foundation of all true knowledge" (Robinson, An
Introductory Lecture on the Museum of Ornamental Art of the Department, 1854). That South Kensington took particular notice of Cluny as a museum paradigm is evidenced not only by Cole's occasional references to the French museum (e.g., Cole Diaries, 27 March 1856 entry), but also by Robinsons comment of 1863 that the "Musee de Cluny possessed a most valuable and practically useful collection of works of medieval and Renaissance art:” later, Robinson unwittingly suggested that it represented a standard for him. After buying art for South Kensington for ten years, he claimed in writing that his Museum's collection was "almost superior" to that exhibited at Cluny (Robinson, 1863).
Robinson felt that intuitive good taste came to "certain continental peoples...familiar from childhood with the most refined works of art.” He went on to lament, "But then London is not Venice" (Robinson, 1854, p. 21).
Charles Yriarte's words are recorded in Select Committee, Second Report from the Select Committee...,1897, (note 103), p. 493. While this comment introduced Yriarte's criticism of South Kensington's display philosophy after Cole's retirement, he clearly appreciated the high level of medieval and Renaissance objects acquired under Cole's directorship.
For the applied arts museum movement in France, see Michael Conforti, "les musées des arts appliqués et l'histoire de I'art,” in press [1997].
Cole Diaries, 20 May 1853 entry.
Semper's views on the "reuniting" of science and art are stated succinctly in his treatise on metalwork presented to Cole in August 1852, a few months before the department's name was changed. "National education will be perfect, when science shall be pervaded by art and art by science and all human relations by both.... [Public collections] must bear the double character of scientific and artistic institutions" (Semper, "Practical Art in Metals,” 1854, nos. 2,6).
For a summary of Semper's London years, see Mallgrave, 1996. For Semper's plans for South Kensington, see Physick, 1994, pp. 28-36.
Mallgrave, 1996, p. 206.
Semper, Der Stil..., 1860/63. This fundamental theoretical text in art history is about to be published in its first English translation, although, appreciating the importance of Semper to their project, such a translation was discussed at South Kensington in the mid-1880s. (I thank Harry Mallgrave for this information.)
I thank Harry Mallgrave and Christian Witt-Dörring for much of this information. For the early history of the Museum für angewandte Kunst, see Fliedl, 1986, and Noever, 1988. For Austria's early efforts at design education, see Lackner and Mikoletsky, 1995, pp. 29-42.
Cole was in Vienna in 1864 a few months before the opening of Eitelberger's museum, but he seems not to have been aware of this new enterprise ( Cole, "Notes on a Journey to Vienna...,” 1870 ).
For comments on Italy's achievement in establishing museums and the country's concern over the loss of its cultural patrimony to the collections of other nations, see Odaschalchi, pp. 295-6.
For the history of applied arts museums in Germany, see Mundt, 1974.
Schwabe, 1866a. The Institut Minutoli, which opened in 1845 in Liegnitz, Silesia (now Poland), was organized by a Prussian civil servant, Alexander von Minutoli, who had been sent to Silesia to improve the region's textile, glass, and cast –iron industries. It appears that Henry Cole was not aware of Minutoli's institute when he planned his museum and school, although it anticipates the training program and purposeful arrangement of objects in Cole's enterprise. In 1853, however, Minutoli informed officials in London of his work, and an account of the Institut's achievements was published that year in the Journal of the Society of Arts, pp. 320-4.
Brinckmann, 1894, pp. V -VII. For Lessing's contribution to culturally focused installation, see Mundt, 1982.
For Bode's innovative and historically evocative installation, see Conforti, 1992, pp. 3-14. In 1896, Bode argued with Julius Lessing in print over whether applied arts museums were as advanced as his fine arts museum in embracing the new, more cultural-history approach to museum installation and collection growth. For differing responses to Bode's innovations, see Baker on "Bode and Museum Display,” 1996a.
Brinckmann, 1894, as translated by Mallgrave and Hermann in Semper, Four Elements of Architecture..., 1989, p. 160.
Perkins, 1870, pp. 7-8.
Woodward, 1985, pp. 12-60. For further discussion of South Kensington and schools
of design in the United States, see Morris, 1986, pp. 75-82.
Cincinnati Art Museum, 1981, pp. 8-12.
Tvrdik, 1977, p. 10; Saint Louis Art Museum, 1984-88, p. 3.
Corcoran Gallery, 1985, p. 2; Babbitt, Philadelphia, 1995, pp. 10-21; Morikawa,1983, pp. 281-5.
For the early history of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, see Howe, 1913; and Tomkins, 1970, pp. 15- 120. Choate's words seem to echo those of the Cincinnati promoter Charles A. Taft, delivered and published two years before (Tomkins,p. 23).
For Charles C. Perkins, see Whitehill, 1970, pp. 10-2. For a summary of Perkins's report on museums, see Perkins, op. cit., where his most complete perspective on the value of South Kensington is expressed.
Eliot, 1887, pp. 17-8. Walter Smith subsequently became an outspoken and respected advocate for the establishment of South Kensington-style art programs in the United States (see Morris, 1986, pp. 75-6).
Perkins's inaugural speech is referred to in N. Harris, 1962, P 554-66.
The American Architect and Building News, 1880, p. 207.
For a discussion of these Metropolitan Museum exhibitions, see Miller, 1990.
For the Boston building and plan, see Whitehill, pp. 172-88, 204-45; also, "Communications to the Trustees regarding the New Building" (privately printed,1904); and "The Museum Commission in Europe" (privately printed, 1905), both in the Archives of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The new Boston building that opened in 1909 reflected the intelligent, indeed sophisticated, philosophies of its senior staff at the turn of the century. Gilman regularly published the programs and perspectives that shaped Boston's direction. His ideas significantly influenced American early-twentieth-century museums, especially his organization of the Country's first lecture programs by "docents,” a term Gilman coined.