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Victoria & Albert Museum's Europe 1600-1815 galleries will open to the public December 2015
Gold box enamelled with the Four Seasons, ca. 1761, Paris. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


LONDON.- The V&A’s Europe 1600-1815 galleries will open to the public in December 2015, following the transformation of seven galleries for the redisplay of the Museum’s unrivalled collection of 17th- and 18th-century European art and design. A major part of the V&A’s ongoing redevelopment programme known as FuturePlan, the £12.5m project will complete the restoration of the entire front wing of the Museum for the display of more than 1,100 objects.

In its prominent position next to the V&A’s grand entrance, Europe 1600-1815 will continue the story of art and design that begins in the award-winning Medieval & Renaissance Galleries (opened 2009). Four large galleries will introduce the story in chronological sequence, alternating with three smaller galleries that focus on specific activities: collecting in the Cabinet, enlightened thought in the Salon and entertainment and glamour in the Masquerade. In addition, three period rooms will invite visitors to imagine life in the personal spaces of the time including a 17th-century French bedroom, Madame de Sérilly’s cabinet and a mirrored room from 18th-century Italy.

The collection comprises some of the most magnificent works held by the V&A, including spectacular examples of textiles and fashion, painting and sculpture, ceramics and glass, furniture and metalwork, prints and books. 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, Catherine the Great and Napoleon.

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.”

A large, highly ornate Rococo writing cabinet made for Augustus III and acquired in 1977 from the celebrated sale of Mentmore Towers, Buckinghamshire will be exhibited for the first time since its recent conservation. Another newly conserved highlight on display will be 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 displays will 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 will also show how – for the first time ever – Europeans systematically explored, exploited and collected resources from Africa, Asia and the Americas.

The collection includes several outstanding bequests, notably from 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 special display within the galleries. A number of significant new acquisitions will be exhibited for the first time at the Museum including a 17thcentury Venetian table 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, accurate depiction of the architecture and bustling life of an estate near Paris in the 17th century, will be a 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 donations from the Friends of the V&A and the Art Fund.

Preparation for the reopening is underway with a full reinterpretation of the collection and important objects undergoing 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. Fashion garments, furniture and textiles have been conserved in the V&A’s world- renowned studios and a Meissen table fountain has been meticulously researched and rebuilt for the first time since its acquisition in 1870.

The V&A is working with architectural practice ZMMA on the redesign of the galleries. The project will see the complete removal of the interior cladding added in the 1970s and will reclaim back of house storage space. The combined effect will enlarge the galleries by almost a third to 1,550 square meters. Natural light will be returned to the spaces by uncovering windows previously obscured. Environmental controls will 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 will be installed.





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