The Trustees and staff of the Victoria and Albert Museum are deeply saddened to hear of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle. As the world mourns the loss of our much respected and dearly beloved Monarch, the V&A extends its heartfelt condolences to the Royal Family, including our Royal Patron HRH The Duchess of Cambridge.
Aged just 21, Her Majesty The Queen declared that she would devote her whole life to the service of her people. ‘A fair and youthful figure, princess, wife and mother, is the heir to all our traditions and glories,’ as an entranced Sir Winston Churchill so poetically put it on her Coronation. ‘She is also heir to all our united strength and loyalty … That it should be a golden age of art and letters we can only hope but it is certain that if a true and lasting peace can be achieved … an immense and undreamed of prosperity, with culture and leisure even more widely spread can come … to the masses of the people.’
Her extraordinary reign, spanning more than seven decades – longer than any other Monarch in British history – selflessly demonstrated this steadfast commitment to public service. Queen Elizabeth II oversaw the successful transition of the United Kingdom from an Empire to Commonwealth member, a new settlement between the constituent nations and regions of the United Kingdom, the flourishing of a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society, the easing of social hierarchies, and an incredible array of scientific and creative achievements. So it is with sincere gratitude and deep affection that so many tributes now flood in from across the globe to honour the life of this inspirational leader.
Her Majesty The Queen leaves behind an astounding historic legacy, not least in her commitment to cultural institutions and civic society. From its 19th-century foundations by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, the V&A has enjoyed a proud history of Royal support, and we have been privileged to receive the ongoing support of Queen Elizabeth II in our own era. The V&A has hosted numerous visits from The Queen over the years: from exhibition openings (World in the Bible in 1965; the popular Sovereign exhibition in 1992; and A Grand Design in 1999) to the official openings of new museum quarters such as the Henry Cole Wing in 1983 and the Nehru Gallery of Indian Art in 1991. During her last visit to the V&A in 1999, The Queen also unveiled the magnificent Dale Chihuly chandelier that has hung under the dome of the main entrance at South Kensington ever since. The V&A was honoured to lead the national design competition for the 2022 Platinum Jubilee Emblem.
Over many years, by gracious permission of Her Majesty The Queen, the V&A has been privileged to house an incredible 104 objects lent from the Royal Collection. These are wonderfully rich and varied: a 16th century stained glass window depicting The Last Supper hangs in the Sacred Silver & Stained Glass Gallery; a 19th-century silver and enamel writer’s box from Rajasthan, India, resides in the South Asia Gallery; and a silver centrepiece given by military officers to Queen Victoria on her Golden Jubilee joins an 18th-century giltwood side chair, part of a set designed by Henry Holland, in the British Galleries.
But perhaps the most admired of these Royal loans are the Raphael Cartoons, housed in the V&A’s Raphael Court. In April 1865, the Cartoons were removed from Hampton Court and installed in the South Kensington Museum (the V&A’s predecessor) – personally loaned by Queen Victoria in memory of Prince Albert. They have been an important part of the Royal Collection since the 1600s but have been on public display at the V&A for over 150 years.
The reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has been a template of unfaltering duty and devotion to the nation. These great qualities – combined with her humanity, humour and acute constitutional understanding – have been a tremendous source of national pride, stability and reassurance for multiple generations. The Victoria and Albert Museum mourns her passing and honours her life as one of this nation’s very finest monarchs.