20 November 2011

V&A: Inspiring, Beautiful, Free

The posters for the V&A that call to you as you jostle with the hordes through the tunnel from South Kensington station proclaim that it is inspiring, beautiful and free. That is so true.

Having finished at the Postmodernism exhibition it was time for a rest and refreshments. Which meant a short stroll past the stained glass to the cafe.

I remember the days, surely not that long ago, when the cafe was confined to two small rooms off a corridor now it has grown in to the corridor and claimed a whole wing of the museum.

And judging by how busy the cafe always is, that was a good decision.

Another good decision is to fight for a table in one of the side rooms rather than one in the corridor as the corridor looks like, well, a corridor and the side rooms look like this.

The coffee and fruit cake were excellent too.

Rested and refreshed I headed up to the top floor, for no particular reason.

There I found the paintings collection. These are squeezed in to one corner of the museum and in one of the rooms the point seems to have been to get as many pictures on to the walls as possible.

This is a small display that gives you a taste of Constable, Turner, Blake, Burne-Jones, etc. all of whom have more space elsewhere in London but the V&A is happy with that as giving small tastes of lots of things is all that it is trying to do.

There are portraits and landscape but, perhaps surprisingly, nothing abstract, strange or starling.

The galleries are presented like the rooms in a grand house, there is even a piano in one (by Burne-Jones), and the choice of pictures goes with this mood.

You can imagine that the portraits are of the family. One set of three young women catches the eye because of their beauty and vitality.

Most of the pictures are neutral or happy but two of my favourites are very dark.

Here a young woman grieves over the end of a relationship and has torn his letters up and thrown them in to the water at her feet.

This is just part of the picture (Disappointed Love by Francis Danby); the rest of it is basically black.

The other dark picture that I loved (The Upas also by Francis Danby) shows a man, a condemned criminal who has been sent to collect poison from a tree. That is very black too.

The corridor leading to the picture gallery houses the silver collection. Here large elaborate old pieces compete for attention with small simple new ones.

The green decorative roof adds to the sense of unreality while the windows contest this and suggest that this might once have been a normal room with a different purpose.

Around the corner there is a surprise and a collection of small boxes that I am sure were not there last time that I walked that way.

They are pretty, delicate and placed behind glass which defeated my camera.

Moving on to a former library (still replete with books and ladders) I discovered the modern English collection which always delights in its normality.

Alongside the old children's toys and an early iMac is a stack of three bog-standard plastic chairs. This makes us look again at the things that surround us and to see the design in them.

Outside the library was a display from the V&A Illustration Awards 2011 where the winning entry, Olivier Kugler's A Tea In Tehran, got added to my Xmas list.

Then it was time to find a staircase and to call it a day. A long and tiring day but very enjoyable, instructive and rewarding. And soon to be repeated.

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