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Enriching the V&A: A Collection of Collections (1862-1914)


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By 1862, just a decade after its launch as a study collection for art and design, the Victoria and Albert Museum had become a reference resource for collectors, scholars and art-market experts. Enriching the V&A, the final volume in a trilogy of books on the museum's 19th-century history, describes how the young museum's rapid growth in the following decades was driven more by collectors, agents and dealers, through loans, gifts and bequests, than by the combined expertise, acquisitions policies and buying power of its directors and curators. The V&A soon became a collection of collections, embodying a new age of collecting that benefitted from the break-up of historic institutions and ancestral collections across Europe, and imperial expeditions in Asia and Africa.


The industrial revolution had created a new social class with the resources to buy from the expanding art market, especially in the decorative arts. Many were touched by a new moral imperative to collect for the home, however humble, and to share their specialist knowledge and enthusiasm by lending to the new public museums. Enriching the V&A explores the formative influence on the museum, and on pioneering fields of scholarship, of the V&A's leading Victorian and Edwardian benefactors.


It also shares uncomfortable truths about the sources of some objects from the age of empires and shows how the meanings of things can change through the transformation of private property into public museum collections.


"…[a] landmark achievement."

(Peter Trippi, Journal of the History of Collections, 23rd May, 2023)


Julius Bryant





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