The Victoria and Albert Museum (often abbreviated as the V&A) is on Cromwell Road in Kensington, West London. It specialises in applied and decorative arts.
The museum was established in 1852 as the South Kensington Museum, following the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Its first Director was Sir Henry Cole a utilitarian and joint organiser of the Great Exhibition who acquired some of the objects from the Exhibition for the Collection. Over the years the Museum attracted many important Collections to it. Originally, it contained both arts and sciences and was designed to inspire visitors with examples of achievement in both fields. It was believed at the time that this would help improve the tastes of consumers, manfacturers and designers, creating a virtuous circle that would benefit the culture and the economy.
The museum's bronze front doors (found in the Pirelli Garden) placed James Watt on a equal footing to Titian and Humphrey Davy with Michelangelo. However, in 1913, the scientific collection was split off and formed the core of the Science Museum. Since then the Museum has maintained its role of one of the World's greatest Decorative Arts collections. It was renamed in 1899 in honour of Queen Victoria and her late consort Albert. In the 1980's Sir Roy Strong renamed the Museum - as "The Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Museum of Art and Design".
The Museum has a huge range of Collections - European, Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Islamic Decorative Arts. It has galleries for Sculpture, Glass, Jewellery, Church Plate, Armour, Weapons, Custume, Textiles, Musical Instruments, Wrought Iron, Stained Glass, Metalwork, Ceramics, Furniture, Architecture, Photography, British Watercolour artists and much more.
One of the dramatic parts of the museum is the Cast Courts, comprising two large, skylighted rooms two storeys high housing hundreds of plaster casts of sculptures, friezes and tombs. One of these is dominated by a full-scale replica of Trajan's Column, cut in half in order to fit under the ceiling. The other includes reproductions of various works of Italian Renaissance sculpture and architecture, including a full-size replica of Michelangelo's David. Replicas of two earlier Davids by Donatello and Verrocchio, are also included, although for some reason the Verrocchio replica is displayed in a glass case.
The two Courts are divided by corridors on both storeys, and the partitions that used to line the upper corridor were removed in 2004 in order to allow the Courts to be viewed from above.
The V&A also houses Britain's national collection of sculpture; including Bernini's fountain of Neptune and Triton and Canova's Three Graces.
The building is Victorian and Edwardian. It covers 11 acres (45,000 m²), has 145 galleries and a collection of 4 million items. Entrance has been free since November 22, 2001, following a short period when the Conservative government had imposed first voluntary and then complusory charges.
Recently, controversy surrounded the Museum's proposed building of an £80 million extension called The Spiral, designed by Daniel Libeskind, which was criticised as out of keeping with the architecture of the original buildings. The Spiral's design was described by some as looking like jumbled cardboard boxes. In September 2004, the Museum's Board of Trustees voted to abandon the design after failing to receive funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
In 2005 some of the sculpture galleries were closed in preparation for a major reorganisation which, it is claimed, will better allow the works to be viewed in their historical context.
The museum also runs the Museum of Childhood at Bethnal Green; and the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden and used to run Apsley House;.
The museum is close to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. The closest London Underground station is South Kensington. A tunnel links the station to the museums; in 2005 a new entrance was opened linking the V&A's basement directly to the tunnel.