In The Study Rooms at the V & A (Part I)

W Crane-babys bouquet sketch fly detail

This morning, a moving company loaded our London belongings into a shipping container. For the next month we will be traveling while our stuff makes it’s way to our home in Seattle.

Since we decided to move back to Seattle from London, my sightseeing to-do list has become an imperative. At the top of the list has been scheduling a date at the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Prints and Drawings Study Rooms.

The Victoria and Albert Museum of art and design (V&A) is a monument to humanity’s creative efforts, and for nearly two years it has been a short tube ride from my home. I have gone there numerous times, but never feel I have seen all that is on display.  I always look forward to discovering something new.

Inner courtyard at V&A

Scheduling an appointment was much easier (and less intimidating) than I expected. Rather than surly guardians of culture, the staff are like friendly librarians. I was afraid that I had waited too long and there would be no sessions available for months, but I got an appointment for the following week. The hardest part was deciding what to request out of the some 750,000 objects in the museum’s prints and drawings collection.

There were five of us waiting at the assigned meeting point outside the V&A National Art Library entrance that morning. We were led by a museum guard through a cordon into a wing of the museum usually closed to the general public.

into the V&A

We trailed behind the guard through hallways lined with boxes and filing cabinets, past offices and copy machines. We rode an elevator and climbed three flights of winding stone steps worn down to a curve from decades of traffic. The old plaster walls were chipped where displays had once hung.

V&A red stairways

The circuitous journey seemed designed to make sure we could never find our way back. One of the others in the group said something about leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.

The study room itself is large and bright with several long tables. We checked our belongings into lockers before entering. Pencils, paper, computers, phones and cameras are allowed. NO pens.

V&A study room

The first item I had requested was waiting for me. The staff demonstrated how to properly handle the artwork. At first I was afraid to touch anything, but they assured me that the items could withstand my gentle examination.

Thus began one of the highlights of my time in London.

I spent the morning looking at an original textile design by C.F.A. Voysey,

CFA Voysey-birds and berries design

a box and sketchbook of Randolph Caldecott drawings,

R Caldecott-studies of women in coats

and an incredibly beautiful pencil and watercolor “dummy” for A Baby’s Bouquet by Walter Crane.

W Crane-Babys Bouquet dummy cover

I refreshed myself with lunch in the William Morris room in the museum café

V&A cafe Morris room 2

and repeated the convoluted journey back to the study rooms to continue with sketches for Winnie The Pooh by E. H. Shepard,

E H Shepard-WTP in tree sketch

and drawings by Arthur Rackham.

A Rackham-sketch detail

Whenever I go to the V&A, I feel happy and excited, but this day was special. This was a Thrill. I couldn’t get over the fact that, not only did I have the opportunity to look closely at drawings by some of my illustrative heroes that are rarely seen, but I could actually touch their work. It was amazing. I was on a high. For the next three days, anyone I spoke to heard all about it.

But that is all I will tell you for now. This is a teaser of sorts. I will continue this post in five weeks when it’s my turn again. By then I will be back in Seattle (just barely). In the meantime, you can peruse the 1,165,712 objects and 624,590 images from the V&A’s full collection online. Have fun!





11 responses to “In The Study Rooms at the V & A (Part I)

  1. You lucky, lucky duck!

  2. Deirdre O'Sullivan from Australia

    WOW! What a feast for the eyes! I just adore Voysey – a student of Morris, but he has a much lighter, more subtle touch than his teacher – he lacks that stodgy, Victorian heaviness which makes Morris’s work a bit too oppressive, for my liking. And Walter Crane and Rackham – divine! These superbly talented artists were all big names in their day, and it’s rather sad to think of them locked away in dusty folios, so remote from the viewing public. Must have been magical to gaze at them – and see close-up, the smudges of the eraser, and their experimental doodling on the margins of the paper.
    I am emerald green with envy!

  3. I was at the V&A many years ago for too short a time, it is my number one travel goal (which I now doubt I will do in person)SOThankYOU for taking us all along with you to the archives. I will look at the extended coverage when back to more than tenuous computer connections in the fall…Marcia Paschkis

  4. I am very excited to read this post, as I will be in London later this year, and staying not far from the V&A. I have bookmarked the page about the V&A, but would love any additional insights you might have about going to see drawings/prints in the reading/study area.
    If I could see an original sketch for Winnie the Pooh, I would feel like my life had been fulfilled.
    Thanks for this wonderful look into one of the treasures of London that I have yet to discover!

    • I just saw your post. It looks like you succeeded! Glad you were able to visit and fulfill a dream!

      • I did! it was a mind bending experience. I tried to figure out how to book on line, but being a bear of very little brain, I couldn’t manage it. So, I called the day we arrived in London and went the next day. It was marvelous. I would have wept, but then they would have taken away the drawings so they wouldn’t get wet. Hoping another trip to London is in my future, so I can go see the archive of Beatrix Potter drawings.
        I am insanely jealous that you got to live in London for some years. it is my favorite city to visit.
        I am forever in your debt for alerting me to this opportunity.
        Welcome back to Seattle.

      • Yes! I felt the same way. Giddy. So glad you were able to go there. I hope to get back some day too.

  5. Pingback: In The Study Rooms at the V & A (Part II) | Books Around The Table

  6. Pingback: In The Study Rooms at the V & A (Part III) | Books Around The Table

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