- Julius Bryant on the Victoria and Albert Museum and its library
Well good evening and, and thank you and hello friends. I've made so many new friends since flying in on Thursday. It's so good of you to come. I'd be a bit lonely up here if you hadn't.
The…it's a full house and the flyer, the advert on your website for this lecture promises an exciting lecture. Now where, where I come from excitement and libraries don't usually go together. Unless there are those people who keep having sort of eureka moments in the library a few chairs down from you who are very irritating, they're really discovering things, libraries can be a very exciting place. So to try to live up to that billing I've put together 116 slides for you. So, so hold, hold on to your seats, it's going to be a fast, fast ride.
What I thought I'd do, there's probably a good chance that some of you haven't been to the Victorian Art Museum. I know many of you have cause you told me how much you love it more than any place in the world after the State Library of Victoria. So I thought I'd take you there. Lots of, lots of pictures I've taken myself. Apologies if they're a bit ropy but…and we'll…in looking at the buildings first of all think about what the mission of the museum is and particularly how similar that mission is to the State Library in Victoria. And then I'll introduce some of my predecessors. Some of the sort of colourful personalities who've been in-keeper of this collection before me, including an Australian from a place called Sunny Corner, New South Wales, who actually held my job for me many years ago.
And then we'll, then I thought we’d go through the galleries at the V&A. I, I just preparing for this I looked at how we display our books around the museum. And I thought there might be some interesting reflections there. You can see how different it is showing books in a museum of art and design rather than, than in a library. And then if there's time, we'll go look at the exhibition as well and I'll try to explain the thinking behind it and what we're trying to, what we're trying to achieve.
So on with the number 116 countdown slides. That is the library in the garden of the V&A. That is the purpose-built library wing of the V&A. We have, we have a reading room, a central inquiries room and this was our prints and drawings room. And then on the ground floor a sort of sculpture gallery today. So nothing like as big, because we've got other things to do in the V&A, nothing like as big as this institution. But from the street—this is the main facade of the V&A—you'll notice there is a whole sort of pantheon…sorry, go back to…of sculptures up here, and all the great artists and craftsmen, a very patriotic assembly of figures.
And there's William Morris, who you'd expect to find, with a copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer under his arm. And next to him Roger Pane, who perhaps a bit of a surprise, an eighteenth century bookbinder on his right. And up, up on the wall, so there's Morris and Pane, Chippendale and Wedgwood, eighteenth century, and then going back to William Caxton and Saint Dunstan, who's a bit forgotten now as a saint, as saints go, but he did begin life at Glastonbury, as in the abbey, as an illuminator, as a scribe; he becomes patron Saint of Goldsmiths. So there is a sort of commitment to books and bindings and illumination in the pantheon around the facade.
But when you zoom in on the front door. Imagine you're coming now into the main entrance of the V&A. You're stepping beneath Prince Albert, our founder, and there are these flanking statues, which, a bit clearer now, and one is knowledge, Albert, and the other is inspiration. So this is right there in the fabric of the building. That what we're here for as a Museum is not just to give you a history lesson but to actually inspire you, hence our title Inspiration by Design.
The origins of the V&A are very different from museums before. Think of the British Museum, the National Gallery, which centres a great learning for the educated people, for people who want to be connoisseurs, look at Greek sculptures or old master paintings. The origins of the Victorian Albert Museum are in mass culture in a popular—you could lose these lights actually if that's possible. You might get a better image. You don't need spotlights on the screen, if there's anybody up there. No? Ok, thanks—so I don't know how good this image is but, but those of you who are looking forward to the Flower Festival next week in your 1880 Exhibition building might think that's what you're looking at here.
You have here in Melbourne a World Heritage site that is unique as a survivor from this phenomenon of the World's Fairs. That every country, every major city in the second half of the 19th century had to have an expo. And, and yours, yours is the only surviving building. In London, the first of these, first of these World's Fairs was 1851. And this is inside the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park that was rebuilt and then caught fire and it no longer survives. But I'm sure you recognise the similarities to your Royal Exhibition building.
This is a huge success for Prince Albert, who was a prince people didn't know quite what to do with and he, they kept giving him more responsibilities and he just kept succeeding. So they couldn't, politicians couldn't get rid of him. And this was, this attracted six million visitors and made a profit, a net profit of 186,000 pounds in 1851, and so it was going to be a tough act to follow.
The Great Exhibition showed all the treasures of the manufactured goods of the world, particularly from India and the Middle East, France and Germany. It was a sort of Cold War competition in a sense because Europe had just been torn apart by revolutions of 1848-1849, and Queen Victoria when she opened The Great Exhibition described it as a ‘world peace fair’. This was how we in England dealt with the risk of revolution. We just, bread and circuses, you know, we had a big party and everybody went away happy.
But Albert thinking how that's a tough act to follow, basically. What am I going to do next? And I wish I could say that, you know, one day sitting up in bed Queen Victoria said to him, ‘Why don't you go and found the V&A?’ You know, but it wasn't, it wasn't really that simple. But they took the money and they bought land south of the Royal Park and they—in Kensington, the park was adjacent to Kensington Palace—so they named this part of London South Kensington and they then started to put into it a collection of institutions.
The one that they began looking at first was the Government School of Design, because whilst revealing the treasures of the world, The Great Exhibition also revealed how terrible English design was. This was a great embarrassment and they realised that they needed to do something about design reform to aid the manufacturers, but also the customers. They needed, they felt, a design revolution. They needed to inspire manufacturers to make better designs, they needed to train better designers, and they looked to something called the Government School of Design, which already existed which had been founded in 1837.
And here's an image of it with Prince Albert on lower right. That's Prince Albert as Chancellor of Cambridge University, which is something else he did. He reformed the whole academic curriculum of Cambridge University and then he thought he'd have a go at London's, or the Government's School of Design, cause people were blaming this school for the bad show of British design at The Great Exhibition.
So they moved the Government School of Design to South Kensington. And it's really the art school with a library that starts to grow into the V&A. That the art school needed teaching aids, they needed visual material, copies of old master paintings, plaster casts, and soon they started to collect objects that had been in the exhibition, the particularly good Indian crafts, French ceramics, and started to teach with them. It's really from that origins that the V&A collection has grown. And the library, the librarian was the first curator, in effect, of the collection.
But, the very first exhibition put on at the, at this new museum and art school combined was about bad taste. It was called the Chamber of Horrors. And I'll show you a couple of examples from that exhibition. You see the, it just has a label still surviving. False Principles number 11. And it's about the, about the wrong sort of wallpaper to make. Wallpaper that's, that's 3D and illusionistic and you can almost put your hand through it. This is before William Morris and Pugin wallpaper.
So this was felt to be very necessary. And on the right a gas lamp, where the gas flame comes out the mouth of a flower. This was a sensational exhibition. People flocked to see it, to learn how to improve their own taste, but unfortunately all these things were bestsellers already. And the manufacturers were rather embarrassed and, and it's rather as if, imagine the V&A put on a show today of Ikea and said this is terrible, you know. And sure enough, the manufacturers had the exhibition closed down.
But from, that from day one of the V&A, at that point it was called the South Kensington Museum, but the idea was to be polemical, to really wrestle with questions of what is good design? Not only to improve the, the products that would then sell abroad and improve the, what we today would call the creative economy, but also to improve the taste of the public. And it was felt that there was this virtuous circle. If you exhibited good things in the museum as well as the bad, but you said this is good, that is bad, the public would, the hope was the public would start to go to the shops and say you haven't got anything like I've seen on display at the South Kensington Museum, I'm not going to buy anything from you. And so the, it was a virtuous circle that the retailer and the manufacturer and the public would engage in improving design.
So there, so there was a commercial agenda, but there was also a sort of moral one as well. That it was really felt that design was a way to a better society. I mentioned the revolutions of in Europe in ‘48 and ‘49, and museums were starting to spring up at this time as part of the wider democratic approach to knowledge. And we have a common shared history here.
So the State Library is founded in 1854. It opened in 1856. Exactly contemporary with the V&A and with a similar agenda of improving the, the, the, the state of society, spreading knowledge more widely. And design being not just about buying things but actually thinking about what kind of home you wanted to live in, how you want to dress yourself, who you are, designing, designing yourself, not just designing commercial products.
So when the Museum decided it wanted to open on Sundays there was a great protest, and this was part of the sort of propaganda tool. The, on the left, this is the Sunday Question from Punch Magazine. On the left, what Sundays could be like, you know? Husbands down the pub spending their wages and a very thin wife trying to get him to come back home. But when the museums are open on Sundays, they're all down there in their Sunday best admiring Renaissance maiolica, which is no, no, no reference to anything spiritual going on you might notice.
But the idea was, was that the, that the museum could provide, you know, safe haven. It didn't have to be just the church on Sundays or, or the pub. So we, there is this, also there's this sort of social agenda that a museum can be a very healthy agent in society.
So if we now look at the actual buildings of the V&A. This is the, I showed you the exterior on the street, the facade from 1909. But if we go inside into the garden of the museum, the quadrangle at the heart, we find this building, which is the first, the oldest surviving building from 1865. There's the very modest little front door. So no great staircase, nothing aloof and grand to intimidate. This is the way in and a little reminder in the pediment, you can just make out in black the silhouette of the Crystal Palace, and in front of it a figure of Elizabeth handing out laurels to the prize winners at The Exhibition.
And I was, I've been trying to find things of a particular interest to an Australian audience. I located Australia in the pediment there, so there. And I bet you this is the first that anybody whose pointed this out in a lecture anywhere. So, a world first for you. And, and then, they're not in our, its not there because it's alphabetical, and it's not because it begins with A. Because there are other, you know, Austria's over here on the far right. You're next to India and the British colonies. And, and whereas on the far right, we have in, in the corner artists' sculptures and portfolio and paintbrush and pallet. Over here you have books and a printing press. And so they're, they're sort of opposite in the sense that it's arts and, and manufactured knowledge if you like. But, it's definitely good company to be in.
So the front door leads beneath a slogan, ‘Better it is to have wisdom than gold’. So they're saying it's not just a commercial endeavour, this new museum. It's a brand new 1865, in a sort of an Italian-style, Lombardic gothic it's called.
But what we have up here is the art school. These, these large windows, what becomes the Royal College of Art. And up here is the lecture theatre. And as you come through the front door the first thing you're going to find, as still today, is the restaurant and the toilets. So very different from the National Gallery or the British Museum. And most museums over the past 30 years have been building lecture theatres and restaurants and space for creative artists. Well here you are, 1865, a whole formula for a new kind of museum, which resonates around the world from India to Chicago. The idea of uniting a museum collection with an art school and with the kind of public facilities the people had enjoyed at The Great Exhibition in 1851. They'd learned about public expectations, comfort, crowd control, visitor services, we'd now call it. And you were making comments about my job title. I think Director of Experience is a pretty good title that you've, you've got here. And that's what, what we're talking about. Visitor experience in 1865. They knew what they were doing.
And yes you go, as well as the lecture theatre, as here on this site, I'm sure you know, it wasn't just built as a library, but it was the art gallery as well and the art school that becomes the RMIT. The design students, who I am thrilled to see have been flocking into our exhibition today. I have got the photographs to prove it when I get home, I’m very pleased. I'm sure you just did that for my benefit. But. Sure they weren't just rustled up? But they're going to be there all week no doubt. So, that's the entrance and you go through the door and turn right and, as well as all of the other things I mentioned, there was the library as, right by the front door of the museum.
A few, that's 1865. In the 18…10 years later they decide they needed a much bigger library. And so facing that they create this whole wing, which I showed you earlier in the dark, closing in effect the courtyard so they’re opposite the front door. This huge range for the library. A massive statement about the importance of knowledge. And it's a library that's very different from the British Museum reading room it's meant to be for the common man. It's meant to be accessible, you don't have to have letters of reference to get in. It's particularly aimed at artisans, craftsman workers in different craft skills and that's why, at its heart, it's this idea of being a visual encyclopaedia. Not simply a place to sit and read, but a place to go and get ideas and to see how other people have worked in, in all sorts of different crafts and art.
And if this is built, if you can picture the Royal Albert Hall, it's built by the same architect General Scott and, like the Albert Hall in Redbrick, it has this Frieze up high, running along the skyline, which is quite welcoming and encouraging. It shows lots of different professions that are represented inside in the collections. So you have artists and studying here and looking at sculpture, piles of books and bookcases, looking at the stars with the telescopes, but also trade is here with the ship and barrels, and, and sacks of grain being imported. So tradesman are welcome. It's like a great hoarding advertising the treasures within artists coming to following architects.
And we have artists here. These are probably all portraits of teachers at the art school. A little weedy old thistle. I'm not quite sure what that's about. But looking beyond—perhaps that represents nature—looking, looking beyond you have architectural ceramics. So obviously, they're the, with their portfolios the professors are looking towards the application of nature to manufacturers, to architectures, sculpture.
If you look out of the window from the library, you notice these gagged figures. These watchers looking down, and the only way I can interpret them is that they are telling you to be quiet in the library. Sort of ‘shhh’. And there are little owls of wisdom, so just to remind you.
So, there is the splendour of this great ambitious building. 1882 it opens. 1884. And it is still today the most complete architectural space in the museum. I mean its, your reading room here from 1909 is similarly intact and, and remarkable and an unforgettable place to work. But many people have worked in the library, you know, just passing through. On international scholars they are often quite sentimental about having enjoyed working away there.
So we go up the stairs, through the grand entrance, and you're coming to this spectacular space with all its original furniture and colour scheme and busts and so forth.
So I'd like to think that this is the best used space in the V&A. We know we have about 46,000 reader visits a year. And the, they stay for about, the average dwell time, the average time they spend in the library is about two and a half hours. So I know that's even longer than they spend in a David Bowie exhibition. So, I don't know what it's like here. You've got David Bowie coming shortly in July. But so as you would say, I think it's the best view space in the whole of the V&A. And it's always trying to keep up with the range of interest that our collections span. So that's always the priority, to try and match the, the areas that the museum is covering in its collections.
So now on to some of those personalities who, who've, behind all of this. Well Henry Cole is the first director. He was Prince Albert's right-hand man, manager, who delivered the international exhibition of 1851. And it's really Henry Cole who works with Albert to establish this great legacy institution that the journalists call Albertopolis. It's just too much. People don't like Albert because he's so successful, so intellectual, and, and so German at that point.
And on the screen opposite is J C Robinson who's the first curator and you have this sort of polarity. You can tell by this cartoon of Cole that he was sort of vertically-challenged compared to Robinson. He has his dog Jim in the background. He's a, he's a self-made man who has no background in connoisseurship or art. He's come from the public record office and is the next best thing to a librarian, I suppose you could say. And, and he is, he is one who drives through a very practical way this agenda for improving society through design. A philosophy based in utilitarianism, this idea that things have to have a use, have to be a utility behind them.
The opposite agenda comes from Robinson. The idea of connoisseurship and beauty. And so at the simplest level you have the rivalry between collecting contemporary product design as, as an exemplary collection to the public as shoppers, and to manufacturers, and the opportunities to collect great old master paintings and medieval ceramics and metalwork, that were then because of the revolutions in Europe and since Napoleonic wars, that were then in all the antique shops in Europe. So you have this rival ambition.
I found out early this morning that a bust of Henry Cole, the man on the left, was here until 1943, when it was sold off. If anybody's got it at home. If anybody's got it at home, you might recognise him. But I, that really is the sort of smoking gun for the connection between our institutions. The fact that, I don' know what happened in 1943 here but somebody decided to sever all links with the Victorians and lots of good things were disposed of at that point.
But then on, so those are the sort of founders. The, the, the chief curator, the first director of the museum. But let's look at the first librarian, Reif Wernham, you see here on the left, and I've shown him with the cast court in the V&A. We still have our cast collection. Much of yours was disposed in 1943. But he was, as librarian, was also keeper of casts. And it's a very important dimension of his job. Because, the library wasn't just as I say to be to be art history and to provide specialists reference material for different crafts, it was, it was also providing this great to sort of encyclopaedia of images. And what we today would call surrogate collections.
So the, Wernham himself says, whilst the library, whilst the museum is necessarily finite in its collection, a young museum, out shopping, trying to build up a collection. While the museum is finite, a library can be infinite. So this idea that a library can bring everything else, in the days before the internet, to the ambitious and hungry artist. And plaster casts, also photographs, and engravings, and electrotypes and brass rubbings and all other kind of reproductive media were within the library. So it was a place to go for things that, that weren't in glass boxes, and so to say the casts were part of his responsibility. And he, he's, he published in 1854 the only catalogue of casts that we have.
Two more Victorian gentlemen. And you'll notice they have something in common these, these three fellows, the first three librarians. And I, as keeper of word and image, I feel I have to grow a very long white beard to be credible as the sort of patriarchal figures that these are. But Robert Soddon Smith was librarian for most of the second half of the 19th century until 1890 when he was succeeded by James Whelan. And these two really start to build the, the fine books collections of the library. So putting in on a same footing as the medieval, as the sculpture, or metalwork, or ivories. And they're very keen serious scholars, publish many great works.
But the one I particularly wanted to introduce to you. You may not know, Arthur Wean, who came from Sunny Corner, New South Wales. I don't know, where that is, or if it lives up to its name. But he was the keeper of the library from during the Second World War up to 1962. And he's best known, he was a great military hero in the First World War and was decorated, and is perhaps best known for having translated remarks about All Quiet on the Western Front. He translated a lot of books but, but I, what I show you here in this photograph from 1939 is when he was in charge is them packing up the subject index of the library.
The museum has many great treasures that were buried in those Welsh caves and in country houses to avoid the Blitz in 1939. And the, one of the great treasures of the museum, people tend to forget, is the subject catalogue. So you know, most libraries have a library catalogue, but in a library that is trying to articulate, define the scope of art history, actually a subject catalogue of something quite new that they'd been working on since the 1860s. And so this is such a treasure it had to be packed up and sent away. And a copy of it was deposited in the Library of Congress in Washington. And so this is our sort of Monuments Men moment, when everybody's, under Weans guardianship, is sent off for safety.
So he came to, Britain. He'd been at the University of Sydney and came to Britain as a, as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, and stayed. Though his daughter went back, and there was a biography of him published here in Australia recently.
And then Elizabeth Estevez-Coll, more recently. A librarian by profession. She is the only one to have a statue of her in the museum, in, in the library looking down. And I can remember in the 1970's using the library as a student and the books tend to be delivered to your seat, with utmost disdain. It was quite astonishing how a volume, you know you're working away studying hard and then suddenly there's this great ‘thud’ next to you, and you'd look round, look up and realise that, you know, ten years of the Burlington Magazine had arrived and there was somebody in a tweed jacket wandering off, you know, glad to have sort of woken you up.
And at that point, many people who went to work in the library really wanted to be in the furniture department. Or, you know, it was the bottom rung of curatorial life, the lowest form. And she, Elizabeth Estevez-Coll was the person who changed that, and made it a part of a larger network of art libraries and made it a place for people who, who wanted a proper career in librarianship to work.
But one of our most important supporters at the moment is a trustee, whom I can't resist mentioning. You might have come across him, Edmund de Waal. He wrote a book about his family collection of Netsuke, and he's trustee of the V&A who at the moment takes particle interest in the library and understands where I'm coming from. I've been there ten years, and this idea of going back to our founding mission of being a visual resource for creative people is something we, we share. And Edmund, very kindly, wrote the forward to the book which we're launching this evening.
So those are some of the personalities and agendas behind the library. And now I thought we'd just have a quick run through the Museum.
Now if you came to the V&A and you wanted see it all you would have to run. And it would probably, my calculation is, it probably, if I was running it would take me an hour and a half to run through the Museum. And because it, it, it's, it's seven miles of galleries end to end, if that were possible, and a lot of stairs. So it’s 24 acres. 60,624 objects to see, which might slow you down as you're running. And we're going to, I thought what we'd do is just look at some of the books that are on display.
So we're now starting off in our Medieval and Renaissance galleries, where books appear, as art objects, rather than as something, something to read. And the, there's a certain rivalry over ownership of some of these books. So, Limoges enamel bible cover is in with the other Limoges enamels. Or, this is the Zion Gospels, so from a manuscript that, that was believed to be given to the Abby at Zion by Charlemagne with these cabochon jewels encrusted. So it's a, I think, a later cover. But this does come from the court of Charlemagne. This is the Lauche Gospels cover. So the metalwork department, the sculpture department, you know, they all claim these things. It's slightly competitive within the Museum as who owns quite what. But this, this, this did begin life as a book cover.
Something nice about contextualising books in this way is you can take a missile like this, which is, you know, basically the sort of hand book for running a mass service and show the rest of the priest's tool kit that he has on his, on the altar. The chalice, the flagons for the wine and water, the candle stands. So you can show it and you can read across how the, how the gilding actually is part of this, the suites of implements. And you see it in a different way, when you see it as an object of decorative arts rather than simply as an illuminated book.
This is another…we have about…we can't really compete with the British Museum or the Fitzwilliam Museum in terms of our illuminated manuscripts. We have about 250 of which ten are really famous. I thought you'd be particularly interested to see the Salting book of ours. George Salting is, is another Australian. He in fact is the biggest single benefactor to the V&A. He gave 2,500 objects to the V&A, having made his fortune here in Australia in exporting wool essentially.
But that's how you would see it on our website as an object and then I just photographed it myself just to show. So this is a very intimate. It's only about three inches tall and it's a Book of Hours. It's, it's, it's a sort of, well we used to say Filofax, we can't say that anymore. It's a sort of a pocket telephone of its days. It reminds you all the book of hours, the hours, the days, the prayers for different times of day. Very intimate little treasure.
If you go into our Chinese gallery there's this book of, it's a ‘teach yourself watercolour’ book in the Chinese gallery. Again sort of surprisingly, nicely contextualised on the furniture, as if an artist had just placed it there. In our Middle Eastern Gallery, the second largest Qur'an known to exist.
There's the cover bindings and here's this vast book just as alongside furniture and everything else, pulpits.
Perhaps our most important object in the library collections is the Forster Codex, the, the Leonardo notebooks. It, it's in fact five notebooks bound up as three. And that's the one that you see at any one time on permanent exhibition. And it's, it's completely miscellaneous, what’s all the contents. Probably from his time in Milan at the Duke of Sforza's court.
If you go to our British galleries and come across a section on Elizabeth I. I was rather charmed to find this little book of Latin, Latin love poems parked next to a little sweet box made of metal, which bears the arms of the Earl of Dudley. So the arms on this little book of Latin love poems are those of Elizabeth I. So there's a certain resonance here about putting her love poem books next to his sweet box. And you know Earl of Dudley was the great admirer of Elizabeth I of Kenilworth. You know, Walter Scott's great party story Kenilworth where Dudley's wife is mysteriously buried somewhere while still Queen Elizabeth is having the wonderful party for days on end and fireworks and that. So there is a certain resonance here with all of these other images and memorabilia of Elizabeth I, which perhaps you wouldn't get in a normal, normal sort of library display.
And then in a section on Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill. Here's Horace Walpole's cabinet for his portrait miniatures collection with ivories mounted on the exterior, see these doors that are open. But here's Horace Walpole's actual catalogue of his home, Strawberry Hill, of his collection. It's the first published guidebook to a country house, a villa. And there is the actual piece of furniture here. So you can get this direct read-across and you can understand how he wanted you to think about his piece of furniture. So the book is complimenting, the book is subordinate like a, like a large wall label in the way it's working in this context.
Or you come to look at metal work. Birmingham metal work from Hardman Manufacturers and their catalogue. So this, you know, if you were a priest looking to order a new chalice this is the commercial trade catalogue and you could, you, this, hope it, hope it comes matching what you asked for. It's a sort of clergyman's IKEA catalogue.
And then there's, there's a rococo revival book from the 1830s using Chippendale designs, alongside some rococo wallpaper from the same taste.
So these galleries are all about the zeitgeist. About how style is of a certain moment and that style reads across all different materials.
There is another agenda in the Museum, historically, that style is driven by the materials themselves and the tools and how they resist and how they enhance a craftsman's work. But these galleries are about how the sort of spirit of the age, the zeitgeist permeates everything.
Our own sort of chamber of horrors is this massive Gothic bookcase. And I could have given a lecture just on bookcases because we have so many in the museum. And that's an easy place for us to park a lot of our fine Gothic revival bindings.
This is an exhibition piece of furniture, 1851, the World's Fair. It was given by the Crown Prince of Austria to Queen Victoria when the exhibition ended and she gave it to the Museum. So you can imagine quite a few things came our, came our way that weren't really wanted as gifts and…more Gothic revival bindings for Walter Scott in that section. I, I better speed up now, because I've got a clock here that's actually counting down. So it's going, all of this is going to explode in ten minutes or something.
This actual book is a source book. This is JC Robinson's picture catalogue of the South Kensington Museum, and people actually got this fabric here, they lifted it, they copied from his catalogue and emulated it very direct.
The whole shrine in effect to Charles Dickens with manuscripts and some of this we have in an exhibition, in our exhibitions, the great the Dickens collection. We have more Dickens than anybody else in the Museum because Dickens' best friend, biographer-editor John Foster decided to give his archive to the South Kensington Museum rather than the British Museum. Because he felt it was a much wider audience, more accessible, and Dickens would have wanted, you know, the man in the street to enjoy looking at all his crossings out. I mean, Dickens always over-wrote for his publishers, and it turns out we've got about 500 pages of unpublished Dickens. The things that were, were, were left out, cause there wasn't enough room in the, in the magazines when they appeared.
As you, as you'd expect, William Morris, The Great Chaucer from the Kelmscott Press. But also Beardsley, the aesthetic movement, The Yellow Book, in with other products of that movement. And our next big galleries, Europe 1600-1800, opening at the end of the year will have things like Diderot's Encyclopaedia in it of course.
But if you come into the 20th century, you can find an Eric Gill Gospels of Christ next to furniture by Ruleman. And it’s interesting just looking at these together how the inlaid ivory and ebony used by this in this fine cabinet-making work sort of matches the crisp, sharp black and white. Or this amazing writing desk by Edward Maufe, made for the Art Deco exposition in Paris, 1925. Perhaps, you saw that in the Art Deco show that the V&A sent here a few years ago, and the catalogue to the Exposition des arts Decoratifs, which the Art Deco name comes from.
And you have such wonderful decorative arts galleries in the NGV. I was looking at the other day. I was really astonished at the quality of the furniture, particularly the Viennese Adolf Loos and Hans Hoffman, I couldn't help wondering how nice it would be to see some books in those galleries as well, as part of the design taste of the period.
Somehow books, we're used to looking closely at books, and we're perhaps not so used to looking closely at furniture. And I think books capture the eye in this way and draw people in and slow them down. So when you're looking at Marcel Breuer furniture or Rietveld furniture why not have some Bauhaus publications alongside? And we've got some of these in the exhibition.
This is a sort of cuckoo in our nest at the moment. This is designed since 1945 and, as you can see, it's sort of landed in the library. And I'm promised by the director this is only temporary and we will have this, when our exhibition is done touring the world, we will use it for the art of the book. But meanwhile we slip into this gallery quite a few bits of books and things and bookcases. An isocon bookcase there for Penguin books. An Arab-designed bookcase on the right. And these Tom Phillip's globes are now here and there's a label in, in this very spot saying ‘sorry you have to go to Melbourne to see these at the moment’. And then book art is a sort of bizarre, sort of sculptural explosion, a treatment of a published book by a book’s artist, a sculptor in effect. We have some of this in the exhibition as well.
Just to, I'm afraid, conclude, I'm going to run through the exhibition. Some of you would have heard me doing a few tours. I've also done quite a few radio and television interviews. So you may not be able to get away from me after today, here.
But essentially we begin with the 1851 exhibition, the Design Reform Movement, the explosion of chromatography, the sudden availability of colour printing, and the library buys up all the great new luxury books that record the exhibition and the design lessons that are learned from it and its natural history, as well as art products of the world and contemporary French furniture, If you want to know what the competition's doing. Historic places, like the balcony of the Vatican decorated by Rafael. Or if you wanted to get out your Red Indian correctly in a painting you were doing, the library had the books for you. The very encyclopaedic visual-reservoir of ideas. Also, straightforward teaching books. How to get your colour right. Learn from Titian and Rubens. And if you needed a butterfly for your embroidery, the library had the right painting for you to study.
The very important new source of employment at this time was illustration, and the exhibition asks you ‘Which comes first the picture or the text?’ Beginning with this Rollinson the English Dance of Death, which is actually written after Rollinson's picture. And similarly a famous writer like William Makepeace Thackeray actually began as an illustrator. The power of a good writer is the visual nature of his prose and Thackeray, well, as you can see from this book Mrs Perkin's Ball, illustrated by M.A. Titmarsh, Michael Angelo Titmarsh, that was Thackeray's nom de plume.
So you have also Charles Dickens drawing in response, writing in response to drawings, and in the exhibition we give you George Cruikshank's images of Fagan from Oliver Twist, because Cruickshank actually believed and protested that the visualisation, the characterisation of Fagan, it was something that he deserved credit for, not Dickens. The idea that the artist comes first, the illustrator is not subordinate, he's not just doing what the writers thought up. But the, at this time writers are ready to learn from illustrators.
Walter Crane. We have in the exhibition this opportunity to compare his, the published book with his dummy book, his mock-up where he's trying to design everything. The borders, the typeface, and as the, as the music score arrives, so he realises he has to make adjustments. You can play spot the difference in the exhibition. So he's looking at Japanese woodblock prints that's again part of the aesthetic movement. Walter Crane becomes director of the Royal College of Art. And this is in Henry Cole's great tradition of believing that if you want to influence design children's books are a good way to get them young.
Perhaps the most important young woman artist to study in the V&A that we know about is Beatrix Potter, who came age 13 and I'll show, I'll show you The Tailor of Glouster, but also the very fabrics that she looked at, in the V&A, as source material for this watercolour. And in the exhibition we have Peter Rabbit, and again a sort before and after comparison you can draw. It actually works this way. This is the privately printed edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. He's had a hard day in the fields eating too many carrots in Mr McGregor's garden and he's tucked up in bed and he's going to have some chamomile tea. And when she privately prints it cause nobody wants it, but when she finally gets a commercial contract she, she rework's this image. And this is the water colour of the second edition, and you can see that the rabbit's got a nice comfy cushion and he's peeping over her shoulder and the teacup is…so you can see how an artist learns how to tell her story more clearly.
In the exhibition, we also have some wonderful books of ours, not to tell you the history of books, but of evidence that people weren't studying these kind of illuminated books in order to produce great certificates that were the illuminated addresses. It was in great fashion from about the 1880s to the 1920s. More people, we know from the requests to copy in the museum, that more people came to copy the illuminated books to help them make these great sort of calligraphy statements of loyalty and support. Sort of thing you'd get when you were retiring or marrying from a great estate with many loyal staff. These tribute-illuminated-addresses. People studied our illuminated books more than they studied the Rafael’s in the V&A.
We have great bindings to admire that are also drawn. Here, an example drawn from, drawing its inspiration from the Middle Eastern tiles, the Persian ceramics in the Museum. And an artist with, who made posters. Long before great French painters got into the National Gallery, they were being collected by the Museum as poster artists. That, that great image on the left is simply advertising ink. And you know of course Toulouse-Lautrec. Well, here's Pierre Bonnard who as a poster artist was in the V&A probably 50 years before he got into an actual gallery.
Aubrey Beardsley responding to the pre-Raphaelite taste, and Morris. Photography's collected initially as a means of expanding the visual resources. So you have, you know, you can see what a great cathedral in Portugal looks like, but soon becomes an art form. And photo books. These luxury books artists are making. Roger Fenton records the Crimea war. And this feeds into photojournalism, that it becomes possible to have, with the new technology of printing, to have magazines like the Illustrated London News, the graphic bringing the horrors of war into everybody's home for the first time.
And documentary photographs also of craftsmen, of agricultural trades that are disappearing. So there's a sort of conservation documentation, but also a self-conscious artistic ambition behind photographers like Emerson.
And of course Julia Margaret Cameron's work, you see on the left, and she has her first exhibition at the V&A. Bill Brandt, coming into the 1930s, works as a photojournalist. We know the image on the right, in particular, as a work of art, but it's actually as you can see in the exhibition, it's taken from a a magazine article about a day in the life of a housemaid.
We have some very rare magazines, collected by the curators, the librarians. A rather disturbing image of Hitler on his 50th birthday cuddling a reluctant fraulein and that, collected at the time, 1939, and mint condition for the Museum.
Nazi propaganda in the middle of showing London suffering in the Blitz. Chinese propaganda from 1971 collected to show design options really, not, not for their historical content, but for different ways in which you could put a magazine together.
Which leads us into commercial graphics which was another great source of employment during the Depression in the 1930s. Artists found they could work with statisticians and designers to produce graphic works that would help particularly in the world of retail advertising.
This is an exhibition catalogue produced by the Bauhaus in Dessau, an exhibition on Walter Gropius. If you need to sell petrol. I mean, how can you sell petrol? You know, difficult commodity. It's not like selling bread. You just show petrol, no one's going to want to buy it, so you have to have artists helping you to visualise the benefits of buying a particular brand of petrol. And Shell were particularly important patron of art in the 1930s. But if you needed to show statistically the importance of the telephone, you needed graphic artists or all the benefits of the GPOs night service.
So we have quite a strong section on graphic art and then fashion. And a very rare collection of brochures used for the catwalk shows for the trade, the kind of things that you can't find in a, in a normal library and reference library. Things that are just salvaged from the event.
Here's a piece of advertising. Quite a horror really. Norman Hartnell trying to produce a ball-gown made out of nylon. Nylon we associate with toothbrush bristles, I think that's what it was invented for. But at this time they were trying it on, trying to make it look glamorous in the 60s. Mary Quant. Beautiful photograph by John French of Jean Shrimpton wearing a Mary Quant outfit. And a nice comparison in the exhibition of this drawing for Dior on the left and only about five years later a Mary Quant design, and such a complete contrast with the image of a young lady from the sophisticated hostess on the left to this rather more dynamic sort of swinging sixties girl that Mary Quant conceives.
I was very delighted that the State Library chose Yamamoto, it’s all over Melbourne this image. And because it, it exemplifies this idea of the creative artist as a selector from history. If in the 1960s Modernism, people trying to do something new, unprecedented. Today creative artists are happy to sample, happy to look to the past for ideas, so the Yamamoto obviously quoting a Victorian bustle in this dress. It's the kind of reflects nicely the idea that an artist can come through this historical material and find fresh inspiration.
We even have punk fanzines. Very ephemeral, photocopied, homemade comics. And certainly Alexander McQueen, whose exhibition's just opened at the V&A, was looking at the punk movement for ideas and was a regular user of the V&A for his researches.
And these are more of these ephemeral publications produced largely for shock value I must, I must admit. We just thought people perhaps are not aware. These are the sort of things, if you went to a catwalk show and you're in the front seats you'd be handed as a potential buyer of some of the latest Versace collection or Prada.
We end the show with modern artists and the way they've worked with publishers and with poets to create the art of the book. You could've had a whole exhibition, and I'm sure you do, just on this subject. So here's a Pierre Bonnard, illustrating a poem by Paul Verlaine. And it's the dealer who, Ambrose Vollard, who really brings them together with the printmaker to make these exclusive, luxury, limited edition books.
So, we have a Picasso. And the marvellous thought that you can walk into an art library and ask to hold a Picasso in your hand. You can. This is something that Picasso himself, you know, authorised. It was a, project, limited edition, and the museum was very active in hoovering up these livre d'artistes, as they are known.
Particularly in the 1930's, Arthur Wheen couldn't get enough of Picasso, and we're very strong in these early prints and etchings. 1937, you can recognise Guernica perhaps in the imagery of this print by Picasso. And Georges Braque, his friend Miro, woodblock prints, George Rouault. At least livre d'artistes would be published as prints and then you would take them to another artist as a book binder. So you would get a specialist book binder to mount up these collections of prints. So this one by Rose Adler is late in 1951. And that's one of the great strengths of the collection.
Then you have the idea of treating a book. So Max Ernst, the surrealist, is using collage to play with an existing set of engravings to create surreal effects by sticking, you know, bat's wings on the back of the bustle there for example.
Eduardo Paolozzi uses this collage idea in the 1960's in Pop Art to get his own fresh inspiration for his work. And he gave the V&A his archive, they call it the Krazy Kat Archive, of all the different kinds of particularly American super hero’s magazines and toys that he gathered together as a sort of personal encyclopaedia.
So there's a strong section in the exhibition on Pop Art and also Concrete Poetry. Ian Hamilton Finlay, 1964. Gilbert and George. Plenty of household names. And this is a particularly strange book. We could have done a whole, so, there's Livre d'Artiste and then there's Book Art, which objects made using the, the codex format of, you know, boards and stitching and paper. This is a book of phobias. Every opening of the book is a different phobia. So this is the fear of being looked at perhaps the one I should be having right now. And, and on the opposite page are details of the artist's own body treated in different ways. So these are more akin to sort of sculptural objects than, than published books.
We also have wonderful bindings. This by Phillip Smith, a sort of leather collage five volumes of the English Bible. And, and then Tom Phillips who treated a book, a human monument, a Victorian novel, and carried on treating it, adjusting it, quoting it, editing it, and translating it into, for example, library globes, a traditional piece of library furniture or an app, which is the most recent manifestation, something he's been working on for 30 years.
We do have exhibitions about book art at the V&A. This was Blood on Paper in 2008 with the colossal Anselm Kiefer, which was only lent to us. On the left is sort of seven foot high book, seemingly made out of slate, and a Damien Hirst on the right, and then a whole cloud of digital in the sky. And we were trying to make a point of in the digital age about the physical qualities of books
And a show that's about to come to Sydney from the V&A is Disobedient Objects, which we just had at the V&A this spring. And it features these shields made by students protesting against the rise of student fees. And there, that, that's a real life photograph of the protest in London. And it, some of the actual shields on the left. And the reason they did this was in this age of universal photography, where you, where their telephone is taking photographs documenting you know riot police, they could, they knew they would catch many amusing incidents, embarrassing for the police, where, where knowledge in the form of books seems to be attacked by the police with their batons.
So all kinds, so this, the exhibition is about design coming from the street, and about good design being design that is effective in a social message, rather than design being good because it's well made and beautiful. There's a different kind of way of evaluating good design is by how socially effective it is.
So that pretty well takes us back to where we began. This spectacular garden view of the library. And the main message of the exhibition is that the library is a great source of information about history, but, and it's a great place to sit and read and particularly an art library for art historians. But this one began life as an art school library as a visual resource. And a lot of the best artists know that there's lots of new ideas, visual ideas, waiting to be discovered there. If they want to expand their visual imaginations, their repertoires, come and look at the library. And I'm sure that rings true here.
But I couldn't resist just sharing this with you to end on. We were recently voted, the V&A, the most romantic museum in London. And I'd like to think, I'd like to think that we are also the most romantic library in London, and I suppose the lesson of this is to remember that ultimately it's not about books and pictures, it's about people.
And I think on that note I'll end with a plug for our book, which doesn't tell you anything about picking up girls in libraries, I'm afraid, but hopefully encapsulates everything that's in the exhibition.
Thankyou very much.
'We have a common, shared history – the State Library was founded in 1854, it opened in 1856, exactly contemporary with the V&A and with a similar agenda of improving the state of society, spreading knowledge more widely.'
– Julius Bryant
About this video
The State Library and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum have much in common, from their mid-Victorian origins to their shared missions to offer knowledge to all people.
In this insightful talk, Julius Bryant from the V&A takes us back to the days of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and the Great Exhibition of 1851, as he explores the museum's history and inspirational, visual feast of popular and classic culture.
Julius leads us on a mini tour of the V&A’s seven miles of galleries to admire some of the countless treasures on display, including illuminated manuscripts, the Leonardo notebooks and Charles Dickens’ working manuscripts. Reflecting on his role as keeper of Word & Image at the V&A, he notes how books are used to add texture and context to the museum’s displays.
Accompanied by more than 100 illustrative slides, his talk also introduces us to the books, bindings, posters, photography, magazines, commercial art, catalogues and fanzines specially selected from the National Art Library to appear on display here in Melbourne.
This talk by Julius Bryant was held during the launch of the State Library’s autumn 2015 exhibition, Inspiration by Design: Word and Image from the Victoria and Albert Museum, running from 20 March to 14 June.
Julius Bryant is the Keeper of the Word and Image Department at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. He is responsible for the museum's National Art Library, a major public reference library for the fine and decorative arts. The library is also the V&A's curatorial department for the art, craft and design of the book.