Monday, December 07, 2015

The new Europe Galleries 1600-1815 at the V&A

After five years, the Europe Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum that house the permanent collection of 17th- and 18th century European art and design will reopen to the public on Wednesday. This brings to an end another of the major projects in the programme of upgrading the galleries to the 21st century.
To provide all our visitors with the best quality experience and optimum access to our collections, both physically and digitally, and to inspire creativity in them all.Strategic objective #1
Looking at the objects in these galleries makes me really appreciate the tremendous skills, design and creativity of past centuries.

Key Points

Below I intersperse the summary of they key points about the galleries with pictures from the gallery
  • they cover the art and design of Europe in the years 1600 - 1815 i.e. the "beautiful things" eg furniture, ceramics, textiles, fashion, sculpture, metalwork etc. This means they cover:
    • Neo-Classicism - a style that emerged in the 1750s.
A Rococo Interior in the French Style - it dominated the 18th century
  • nearly 1,100 objects are on display in 35 thematic displays in seven galleries - compared to c.1,000 in the old galleries. This is because they've been able to reclaim space from spaces previously used for storage and plant. All the objects below to the permanent collection of the V&A - there is nothing on loan.
Gallery focusing on Europe and the World
  • the three long galleries cover:
    • 1600-1720 (crimson walls) - focusing on Europe and the World and how art and design in 17th century Europe was shaped by trade, colonisation and religious conflict. Imported goods changed the way Europeans lived their lives
    • 1660-1720 (blue walls) - covers The Rise of France
    • 1720-1780 (pistachio walls) - focuses on the City and Commerce - the time when the wealthy began to live in a less formal way and the Rococo style was developed
    • 1760-1815 focuses on Luxury, Liberty and Power - the NeoClassicist Style was influenced by recent discoveries associated with Greece and Rome
  • the previous gallery design (done in the 1960s) has been completely removed before it became a "listed interior".  The low artificial ceiling has gone.
  • the new interior is much taller and celebrates the design of the original architecture.  It means much larger and taller objects can be displayed
The Rise of France
  • there are three curatorial messages which underpin the display of objects in these galleries
    • global powers and marketplaces are the norm - Europeans systematically explored, exploited and collected resources from Africa, Asia and the Americas
    • the impact of the "French Style" on others in Europe during this period
    • certain ways of living also started in Europe during this period:
      • notions of comfort and privacy become desirable and normal - and there is more emphasis on products and goods which are associated with luxury and comfort 
      • fashion and seasonal change becomes part of everyday life
City workshops supplied the market with Luxury Goods
The Meissen Service for Frederick the Great
  • in terms of the future, the Galleries focus on aspects which the National Lottery Heritage Fund liked - specifically:
    • it thinks about Europe beyond Western Europe
    • it looks at Europe in the context of the world as a whole
    • it's ambitious in terms of interpretation - providing digital and interactive as well as the normal labelling and audio
    • most of all - it has got objects out of storage. Around 20% of the objects on display had previously been in storage in the old galleries

    The Victory Service marks the end of the exhibition
    It was made to celebrate Duke of Wellington's win at the Battle of Trafalgar 
    and the alliance of the UK, Spain and Portugal.
      Once the Galleries are open to the public I am assuming the digital map will kick in and you will be able to see aspects of what is on display in each room

      An afterthought

      Interestingly the V&A website operates like a matrix - but fails to tell the story of its galleries in an accessible way. So, for example, at the moment there is a special hub for the Europe Galleries but it's actually rather difficult to find out what the galleries are and what's in them - and how they relate one to the other.

      Connections are also not made. I also visited the exact same space on the 4th floor - which houses the permanent collection of British Art covering the same period - but no reference is made to this in the European Galleries or vice versa....

      Which just seems odd to me.

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