The Victoria and Albert Museum
February 2018

“A Schoolroom For Everyone”: The Making of the V & A

The Arts Society Devizes
Wednesday, February 28, 2018 - 10:00

“A Schoolroom For Everyone”: The Making of the V & A

When Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of Aston Webb’s new building for the South Kensington Museum, on the 17th of May 1899, she declared that it would thereafter be known by Royal permission as the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was her last major public appearance, and a final tribute to her beloved Albert; it also represented the beginning of the fourth and final incarnation of an institution which had been established over 70 years before in 1837 as the London School of Design, intended to raise the standards of training available to design students.
From modest beginnings in Somerset House, with a library, some plaster casts and an extremely nominal allowance for purchases of outstanding examples of the manufacturer’s craft it would grow to become an entirely new kind of museum; inspiring imitators across Europe and changing forever public expectation of what a museum should be.
With a new Director, Henry Cole, the whole-hearted support of the Prince Consort and a new name chosen to stress its connections with Royal Parks and Palaces, the South Kensington Museum arrived in Brompton in 1857: a collector with a mission, rather than a collection looking for a home, where purchases were made with a view to acquiring the best examples of design, ornament and fine art in the widest range of materials and from the broadest spectrum of cultures and nations. By purchase and bequest, helped along when necessary by flattery, persuasion and financial juggling, South Kensington by the turn of the century had acquired unrivalled holdings, worthy of a place dubbed by the press A Palace of Art, devoted to the free culture of the million.
In 2016 the V&A won the prestigious Museum of the Year Award; this year it unveiled its latest project: an architectural scheme as ambitious as anything in its past, pointing the way towards an equally rich and challenging future. Laying the foundation stone of Webb’s imposing new building Queen Victoria expressed the wish that her new namesake should remain for ages a Monument of discerning Liberality and a Source of Refinement and Progress.
This Study Day offers the opportunity to explore the many and varied ways in which Henry Cole’s cherished schoolroom for everyone has always done its best to oblige her.


Dr Justine Hopkins

Studied History of Art at the Courtauld Institute. Has lectured regularly for Tate Britain, Tate Modern, V&A, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, as well as to Oxbridge and Bristol Universities, Christie's Fine Art, the Art Fund, and groups such as the Bradford on Avon Arts Association, Friends of Covent Garden and U3A. Publications include, amongst others, The Art of John Martin (2001), Michael Ayrton: A Biography (1994) and articles for Apollo Magazine and Modern Painters. Has also broadcast on Flowers in Art for BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour.