Revamped European Galleries at the V&A have been unveiled this week after five years work and at a cost of £12.5M to complete the restoration of the museum’s front wing. The result is fabulous. The seven galleries chronologically chart pivotal moments in European history from 1600 – 1815, showing how Europeans explored, exploited and collected from Africa, Asia and America. It starts with France overtaking Italy as Europe’s leader of fashionable art and design in Louis XIVths time, with galleries exploring cities, luxury and liberty and finally power ending with Waterloo. It also looks at how the foundations for certain ways of living were established in these days. “Tea, coffee and chocolate become very popular and fashions, seasonal changes and to a certain degree democratisation comes into place,” explains curator Lesley Miller.
Four large galleries, punctuated by smaller ones each with a contemporary commission, are packed with gorgeous items and entire preserved rooms. To keep the ankle biters happy there are activities along the route and even wifi links to explain the objects. The dates were chosen because 1600 is when Medieval and Renaissance ends, and 1815 is a crucial date in European history because the balance of power in Europe shifts with the Battle of Waterloo and France ceases to compete with Britain for economic power. Also, the V&A has a great Wellington Silver Service which the Portugese made to celebrate the triple alliance between Spain, Portugal and Britain which pushed back Napoleon. It is now proudly on display (pic left).
A place to rest and contemplate for a bit is the slumber room, a lovely relaxing space with painted panels. Once you are up and off the John Jones display is really gorgeous. His bust stares at the room, exactly recreated from drawings of his Mayfair house (pic right) He crammed so much in that in the end he had to sleep on a camp bed. It wasn’t an exercise bike and a bread maker cluttering it all up, it was amazing art like the Portrait of a Woman in White Cap by Tischbein and fabulous furniture and clocks, all of which the one-time tailor bequeathed to the museum. Thank you Mr Jones. vam.ac.uk Entry is free.