Whenever I get to London, I make a point to go to the Victoria & Albert Museum of art and design. No question. If it’s the only building I visit while I’m there, I’m fine with it. It’s one of my favourite places on the planet.
Museums and galleries are often my preferred haunts – both at abroad and at home in Toronto. Each has something to offer, but some institutions are better at welcoming you. They’re simply a pleasure to be in. It’s difficult to put your finger on the whys of it, but you know it as soon as you walk through the front door (when you walk into the V&A, you see Dale Chihuly’s gorgeous glass sculpture – below). Great museums engage the public, provide new and compelling ways to look at art or history, and just draw you in better. That’s how I feel about the V&A. It’s really just fun to be inside it.
So, what’s so great about it? First of all, it’s free. Special exhibitions can be rather expensive (but totally worth it if you can afford it), however, they aren’t necessary to your enjoyment of the place. The museum is plenty big enough to get lost looking and learning for hours.
Second, it’s more than simply paintings and sculptures (though I’m a fan of those too). They have wonderful paintings, drawings and sculptures – but what I really love is wandering through the V&A’s collections of jewellery, ceramics, fashion, furniture, textiles, photography and my absolute favourite, metalwork. Ever seen centuries of intricate wrought iron designs in one place? It’s absolutely spectacular.
During my October 2015 visit, in addition to taking in the amazing shoe exhibition (Shoes: Pleasure and Pain), I finally got around to seeing their glass collection. Even the stairway bannister is made of narrow towers of glass:
And third, the V&A has a beautiful garden area in the middle of the museum, a large square with a pretty fountain, with tables and chairs. The architecture is beautiful, and on a sunny day (below is a pic from June 2013), it’s simply stunning.
Tell me you’re not just itching to sit down mid-museum wander for a coffee in this lovely square! It’s even better (and highly appropriate) if that coffee’s in a William Morris design paper cup (as mine was in the picture at the top of this post).