The V&A is one of my favourite museums in London (I know you’re thinking ‘thanks Emma for over sharing, how kind of you’) and I can spend a whole day wandering the halls. When you come to London, or find yourself with a spare afternoon, I implore you to visit either the Victoria & Albert museum (it’s full of quirky design objects, art and fascinating objects) and the British Museum (but that’s a post for another time).
The V&A Museum, Ceramic Galleries
When Emma, our lovely host, graciously asked me if I’d like to write a guest post for her blog, I immediately jumped onto the opportunity, which also marks my blogging debut. The premise seemed easy: write about one of your favourite London places. Usually such questions make me go up the wall (Edit: You know I love a challenge, Yannick!), but for some obscure reason this time I decided fairly quickly to pick the Victoria and Albert Museum’s gargantuan Ceramic Galleries.
Situated on the sixth floor of the museum, the Ceramic Galleries span a whole wing of the V&A – prime real estate in the museum world – and yet they are one of London’s most under appreciated gems. (Hands up, who’s been up there? Oh yes, I can see one hand there at the back.) You will often find yourself to be the only visitor – both a pleasant and eerie feeling, in my book, but I digress – in these eleven thematic rooms filled to the brim with delights, from figurines to teapots and sculptures. Set up as a storage facility as well as an exhibition space, nothing prepares you for the volume of objects on show and the whole floor can be quite Stendhal syndrome-inducing.
In the World Ceramics gallery, more humbly known as Room 145, the whole history of ceramic-making is laid out in front of your eyes. From Ancient Greek vases to a ‘reappropriated’ McDonald’s logo, this room encapsulates over 4000 years of history and the chronological display invites visitors to embark on an epic journey across the globe. Cleverly illustrating how different trade routes and political revolutions have influenced styles and techniques, this incredible gallery provides us with a three-dimensional dictionary of every ceramic tradition known to us – from Islamic lusterware to blue and white China.
For example, look up to one of the top shelves and you’ll meet the gaze of Marie-Antoinette, last Queen of France, who is haughtily staring off into the distance. Isn’t it rather foreshadowing how this soft-paste biscuit (ha!) porcelain bust – only full ceramic jargon for you, my dear reader – seems to be emphasising the ill-fated monarch’s rather vulnerable neck? I wonder if the Royal Manufactory of Sèvres knew something their contemporaries did not?
As I’m volunteering at the British Museum in my spare time, another favourite object of mine is Josiah Wedgwood’s ‘First Edition’ (1790) copy of the Portland Vase. It looks nice without all the cracks, doesn’t it? (The Roman original, housed at the BM, was smashed to pieces in an act of vandalism in 1845 and has since then been faithfully restored.)
If you are not too tired already, there is one final room, which is used for free temporary ceramics exhibition. The current display is called Deception: Ceramics and Imitation and can be seen until the 5th of January.
I hope you enjoyed my first foray into blogging – Was it a hit or a miss? Sound off in the comments below! – and I would hereby like to thank Emma for this wonderful opportunity.
Smashing post Yannick (no pun intended), thank you for taking so much time & thought! You are welcome back anytime!
I also highly recommend his Holland Park tours – the Japanese garden there is a breath taking and under-appreciated hidden gem.