February 25–May 17, 1998

A Grand Design

The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum

This exhibition celebrated London's Victoria and Albert Museum—the largest and most important museum of the decorative arts in the world. Its collections of more than four million objects include furniture, textiles, ceramics, glass, silver, sculpture, paintings, books, prints, drawings, and photographs. All of these categories were magnificently represented in the more than 250 objects in the exhibition.

Founded in 1852, the V&A, as it is generally called, was a new kind of museum in that it was created to teach designers, artists, and the general public what good technology and good design were by displaying examples of both in its galleries. Many of the objects purchased for the collections in the nineteenth century came from world's fairs and international exhibitions. The V&A's early emphasis on education led to the acquisition of plaster casts of famous European sculptural and architectural monuments.

As the museum prospered, its focus shifted to building collections of great masterpieces, particularly of European medieval and Renaissance works of art. After World War I the museum, in a burst of nationalism, concentrated on acquiring fine objects of British manufacture. Long opposed to the acquisition of contemporary art, the V&A reversed it's policy in 1974 and is now engaged actively in adding to its twentieth-century and contemporary collections.

Organized in six sections, "A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum" presented an astonishing array of beautiful, and sometimes surprising, works of art. It also told the lively story of a great museum that profoundly influenced many others, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.