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Home | Russian Art | Decorative art at Victoria and Albert Museum

Decorative art at Victoria and Albert Museum

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Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the world’s largest museums whose collections cover art of virtually every medium, spanning the cultures of Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa from ancient times to the present day.

Victoria and Albert MuseumVictoria and Albert Museum

However, the Museum’s main focus is on the decorative arts and design. The Museum was established in 1852, immediately after the Great Exhibition in London the previous year, and its main founding principle was to educate working people by making works of art accessible to all while also inspiring British designers and manufactures. Nowadays often known simply under its abbreviation V&A, the Museum bears the names of the Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and her husband, Prince Consort Albert (1819-1861). Initially called the South Kensington Museum, it was assigned its present name in 1899, in occasion of Queen Victoria’s laying the foundation stone of the Museums’ new building and in order to commemorate her late husband’s enthusiastic support for the establishment of the museum. The National Art Library is located in the same building.

Russian collections. Throughout its existence V&A has maintained a strong acquisition policy aimed to acquire important art works from different cultures all over the world. V&A Russian collections are extensive and diverse and include applied art, icons, paintings, prints, drawings, and books from Russia’s different historical periods. Among them are: an outstanding collection of costumes and theatre set designs for Sergey Diaghilev’s company Ballets Russes, which includes works by Leon Bakst, Nikolai Roerich, Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov,  Alexandr Golovin, Pablo Picasso and Coco Chanel complemented by visual material inspired by the company’s performances – posters, photographs, books, sculpture and films; a collection of Russian painted and metal icons, icon frames and religious ware XV-XIX cc; an extensive collection of Russian tapestry, textiles and lace, mainly XIX c.; a collection of jewellery of the Imperial period; collection of  Russian silver engraved table ware from the pre-Petrine and Imperial periods; a good collection of Russian and Soviet posters, including posters and prints by Kazimir Malevich, Vlsdimir Mayakovsky, Gustav Klutsis, Viktor Deni, Nikolai Radlov, El Lissitzky, Valentina Kulagina, Dmitry Moor, Kukryniksy, as well as posters produced in support of White Army in 1919; Russian porcelain from XVIII-early XX c; a wall cabinet by Elena Polenova; 2 miniature portraits of Russian Emperors including Peter the Great with a Black Page by Gustav von Mardefeld and Nickolas I by Ivan Winberg ; an oil painting Mrs Gilbert Russell, Sitting in Bed by Boris Anrep; stage designs and drawings by Alexandr Benois; stage designs and a Cubist watercolour by Alexandra Exter; Mark Antokol’sky’s bust Mephistopheles; drawing Still-life by Leonid Pasternak; costume designs by Ivan Bilibin (late 1920s); a collection of modern Russian folk toys (1990s) and a  collection of Natalia Goncharova’s sketch-books of 1930. The majority of Russian artefacts are in store, however, they all feature in the on-line catalogue with detailed descriptions sometimes accompanied by photographs.

The history and legacy of Serghey Diahilev’s Ballets Russes were showcased in the recent V&A exhibition Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929 (25 September 2010 – 9 January 2011). The majority of the exhibited artefacts came from the V&A own collections.

Natalia Goncharova, Backcloth for the ballet The Firebird, ca. 1926 (painted). Natalia Goncharova, Backcloth for the ballet The Firebird, ca. 1926 (painted).

Natalia Goncharova, Backcloth for the ballet The Firebird, ca. 1926 (painted). 

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