Victoria and Albert Museum’s Europe 1600-1815 galleries open to the public

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January 7, 2016 – The installation of nearly 1,100 objects has completed as the London Victoria and Albert Museum opens its new suite of galleries dedicated to the arts of living in Europe between 1600 and 1815. Seven galleries transformed for the redisplay of the Museum’s unrivalled collection of 17th- and 18th-century European art and design are now open to the public. A major part of the V&A’s ongoing redevelopment programme known as FuturePlan, the £12.5m project has been made possible thanks to lead support of £4.75 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the generosity of a number of donors, private individuals and trusts.

Installation image of Europe 1600-1815 Galleries. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, photograph by David Grandorge.

In its prominent position next to the V&A’s grand entrance, Europe 1600-1815 continues the story of art and design that begins in the award-winning Medieval & Renaissance galleries (opened 2009) and completes the restoration of the entire front wing of the Museum. Four large galleries introduce the story in chronological sequence, alternating with three smaller galleries that focus on specific activities: collecting in the Cabinet; enlightened debate in the Salon (which includes a contemporary installation from artist collective Los Carpinteros); entertainment and glamour in the Masquerade. Three historical interiors invite visitors to imagine life in the personal spaces of the time: a 17th-century French bedchamber; a Parisian cabinet from the reign of Louis XVI and a mirrored room from 18th-century Italy.

Installation image of Europe 1600-1815 Galleries. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, photograph by David Grandorge.

The collection comprises some of the most magnificent works held by the V&A, including spectacular examples of ceramics and glass, furniture and metalwork, painting and sculpture, prints and books, textiles and fashion. Many objects were made in Europe by its finest artists and craftsmen for the period’s most discerning leaders of taste such as Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, and Napoleon.
The displays demonstrate how France succeeded Italy as the undisputed leader of fashionable art and design in Europe in the second half of the 17th century. They also show how – for the first time ever – Europeans systematically explored, exploited and collected resources from Africa, Asia and the Americas.

Martin Roth, V&A Director, said: “These new galleries are a major development in our ambitious programme to renew the architecture of the V&A for the 21st century and, at the same time, re-examine and re-present our collection for our visitors. At a time when roles and relationships within Europe and the world are under scrutiny, it is interesting to explore the objects, makers and patrons of a period that was so influential upon the habits and lifestyle of Europe today.”

The Triumph of the Archduchess Isabella in the Brussels Ommeganck, Denys van Alsloot, 1616, Brussels. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Preparation for the reopening has included a full reinterpretation of the collection and many important objects have undergone conservation: several large tapestries have been cleaned at De Wit Royal Manufacturers of Tapestries in Mechelen, Belgium, including the Gobelins tapestry after the Poussin painting “The infant Moses tramples on Pharoah’s crown” manufactured in Paris in the 1680s.

Writing cabinet made for Augustus III, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony (detail), probably by Michael Kimmel, 1750-55, Dresden. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The V&A’s own world-renowned studios have conserved many objects in different materials and techniques, and of differing scale. A Meissen porcelain table fountain has been meticulously researched and rebuilt for the first time since its acquisition in 1870. A large, highly ornate Rococo writing cabinet made for Augustus III and acquired in 1977 from the celebrated sale of Mentmore Towers, Buckinghamshire glistens now after the conservation and cleaning of its gilded mounts and mother-of-pearl inlay. Another newly conserved highlight on display is a grand 18th-century bed from the Parisian workshop of George Jacob. A supplier to royal courts across Europe, Jacob survived the French Revolution and later made furniture for Napoleon.

The Visit of Louix XIV to the Château de Juvisy, Pierre-Denis Martin, Paris, about 1700. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The V&A collection includes several outstanding bequests, notably that of John Jones, a military tailor who left his exceptional collection of French decorative arts to the Museum in 1882 and who is the subject of a dedicated display within the galleries. A number of significant new acquisitions are being exhibited for the first time at the Museum, including a 17th-century Venetian table with a top by Lucio de Lucci, acquired after a temporary export ban in 2012. The magnificent oil painting “The Château de Juvisy”, by Pierre-Denis Martin, a rare depiction of the architecture and bustling life of an estate near Paris in the 17th century, is the centrepiece of the gallery exploring the rise of French cultural dominance during the period. The work was secured for the nation in 2014 thanks to a major public appeal and support from the Friends of the V&A, the Art Fund and others.

Installation image of Europe 1600-1815 Galleries. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, photograph by David Grandorge.

The V&A has worked with architectural practice ZMMA on the redesign of the galleries. The project has seen the complete removal of the interior cladding added in the 1970s and reclaimed back of house storage space. The combined effect enlarges the galleries by almost a third to 1,550 square metres. Natural light has been returned to the spaces with previously obscured windows uncovered. Environmental controls have been be upgraded to provide sustainable and stable conditions for the collection and new state-of-the-art cases that meet modern environmental and security requirements have been installed.
Adam Zombory-Moldovan, design Director at ZMMA said: “Inspired by the Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical objects in the V&A’s collection, we have created richly engaging galleries with modern interventions poised elegantly in the restored Aston Webb architecture. Our architectural settings for the displays are detailed in beautiful materials like bronze, walnut, dark stone and leather, making the displays accessible and atmospheric.”

More information about the new installation is available here.

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