Saturday, 9 July 2016

National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert

(Credit: Dr Welsh)

After we went to the library at St. Paul’s, we headed across London to the absolutely wonderful Victoria and Albert museum! We had time for a quick lunch at the café there before heading to our next tour: the National Art Library. Surprisingly, the National Art Library actually predates the V&A: it was founded in 1832, and the museum (not yet called the V&A) was founded in 1852, after the Great Exhibition.
(The special collections room)

Bit of a confession: I’m not too big of a fan of what is traditionally considered art (paintings, sculptures, etc – they’re pretty, but I usually won’t stand there and stare at them), so I was a little skeptical of how much I’d like this library before we got there. Once we saw some of the collections (and later were told about the rest), I was very impressed!! They have a large number of materials, in English and other languages; a large amount of trade literature, including Moss Brothers catalogues and many other; not one, but three of Shakespeare’s First Folios; and, to my delight, a large collection of Vogue magazines in the periodicals section! They also have copies of the Harry Potter books (for the covers and cultural significance) and the world’s largest Beatrix Potter collection, which we saw some of later in the month.

Back to the library itself: the reading room and special collections room, where we first went, were stunning. There was the main floor and a gallery in both rooms, the galleries in both formerly being accessed by spiral staircases. That staircase isn’t used anymore (for health & safety reasons), but it’s still visible and adds to the atmosphere for the room. The building that the library is in is the first of the modern V&A complex that was intended to be lit with electricity instead of gas! This threw me off a little bit – logically I knew that the museum’s buildings weren’t that old, but I mostly associate electrification with the 1900’s, not the 1880s, when the building was completed. 
After our tour was completed, Ariel and I went to see the Undressed exhibit, which featured undergarments through history. It was pretty interesting!


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