Survey of London: Volume 38, South Kensington Museums Area. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1975.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying and sponsored by English Heritage. All rights reserved.
CHAPTER VI - Victoria and Albert Museum
The complex of buildings discussed here comprises, on the south side, the courts and galleries erected in 1899–1909 under the authority of the Office of Works from (Sir) Aston Webb's design, to give extended accommodation for the art collections of the South Kensington Museum: the inauguration of this extension in 1899 was marked by the assumption of the museum's present name, and at the same period the museum passed under the authority of the newly created Board of Education. Lying chiefly to the north of the Webb rooms, and in the main also occupied by the art collections, are the buildings erected between 1856 and 1884 for the Science and Art Department, which during virtually all that time was a branch of the Board of Education's predecessor, the Committee of the Privy Council on Education. These earlier buildings, with others now demolished, formed the major part of the South Kensington Museum, opened in June 1857. The museum, whose exhibits were also accommodated in other buildings on the west side of Exhibition Road, comprehended scientific, trade, industrial and other miscellaneous collections: these were mainly housed in buildings now demolished, and so far as they survive are chiefly represented in the Science Museum and the Bethnal Green Museum. In addition to the South Kensington Museum (and other museums in London and elsewhere) the Department, as we have seen, administered an extensive system of education in science and art. The central training schools in those subjects were situated at South Kensington, that for science in what (at the time of writing) is called the Huxley Building (see page 234), and that for art in the northernmost range of the buildings discussed here, which it still occupied in 1974 as the Royal College of Art. The headquarters of the Department were also housed on the museum site. For almost all the period until 1873 the direction of the museum and the administration of the Department were united in the person of (Sir) Henry Cole (1808–82), the greatest single influence on the museum's development. (fn. 14)
From 1856 until 1870 the Department was responsible for the design and erection of its own buildings. The Office of Works then assumed the responsibility, but the Department continued in fact to originate the design of its buildings until 1882; that is, the design of all the surviving buildings earlier than Aston Webb's. (For this Chapter see Plates 1, 2c, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26c, 39d, 39e, 66d; and plan-sheet A and, for the museum's location, plan B in the end pocket.)
As is described in the previous chapter, the Department had been set up in 1852, as the Department of 'Practical Art' (changed to 'Science and Art' in the following year), under the Board of Trade. Its purpose was to foster a network of local and metropolitan schools of science and art and to form and maintain collections illustrative of the application of science and art to manufacture. (fn. 15) The scientific institutions brought under the Department's aegis included the school and collections in Jermyn Street now represented at South Kensington by the Royal School of Mines and Royal College of Science (being constituent parts of Imperial College) and by the Geological Museum. In art-education the activities of the new Department reanimated the Schools of Design established from 1837 onwards under the Board of Trade. The metropolitan school for teaching art was a reconstitution, under the name of the Normal Training School of Art, of the Government School of Design at Somerset House. It later became the National Art Training School and is now the Royal College of Art. The illustrative and educational collections administered by the Department were of varied origins, and very miscellaneous.
In 1852 the Department was temporarily accommodated at Marlborough House, where by September it had opened its 'Museum of Manufactures', a name changed in the following year to the 'Museum of Ornamental Art'. (fn. 16) The museum proved to be very popular and expanded rapidly, particularly in its representation of objects of art and virtu. Under the vigorous guidance of Cole and of the keeper of art, (Sir) J.C. Robinson, important collections were secured in what afterwards came to seem a golden age for such acquisitions. In 1855, however, Marlborough House was required for occupation by the Prince of Wales, and a new home was found at South Kensington. This was upon the estate recently bought by the Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851, where Henry Cole became the mediator of Prince Albert's great interest in the Department and its museum until the latter's death in 1861.
Buildings and Projects 1854–c. 1860
As we have seen in Chapter V, Cole and the Department's art superintendent, the artist Richard Redgrave, had in 1854 submitted plans to the 1851 Commissioners for an enormous museum and associated buildings on the main rectangle of the Commissioners' estate west of Exhibition Road: great, parallel, two-storeyed ranges would have been linked by cross-galleries to form seven internal courts, a notable feature being that the top-lit upper storey for the display of pictures was seemingly to have inwardsloping walls. (fn. 17) Chiefly because of uncertainty about the removal of the National Gallery to Kensington, however, the disposal of the main rectangle remained in suspense and to meet the Department's needs attention became concentrated on the eastern portion. Previously, in 1853, Prince Albert had employed architects to plan museum buildings here as part of the first grandiose schemes for the estate. One contributor was the architect and theoretician, Gottfried Semper, who had joined the staff of the Department in 1852. (fn. 18) Early in 1853, when any large public outlay on peaceful projects was hindered by the Crimean War, the Prince again called on Semper to plan buildings for a partly self-financing enterprise on this eastern part. It was to incorporate not only museum galleries but shops with flats above, rather on the lines of the Palais Royal: there might, however, have been a great central hall for music. Semper made a model, but to the Prince's disappointment the Commissioners' advisers thought that the scheme could not be made to pay. (fn. 19) (The model does not survive but the Prince's very rough and faint scribble of his idea on blotting-paper is in the museum. (fn. 20)) In its place, the museum's first home in Kensington was to be less ambitious, and perhaps more British—a large iron shed.
The Iron Museum
The Prince was considering such an alternative in May 1855, and in August Lord Palmerston, at his direct request, obtained a vote from Parliament of £15,000 for the erection of an iron museum capable of being removed to another site. It was avowedly 'temporary' also in observance of wartime economy. (fn. 21) The Commissioners added £3,000 to meet the cost (fn. 22) and one of their number, the engineer Sir William Cubitt, had the supervision of its erection on their behalf. The design and construction were, however, the work of an Edinburgh firm, C. D. Young and Company, whose London office shared Sir William's address in Great George Street: they were well known as exporters of iron buildings to the colonies, but had relevant experience in their constructional work for the Dublin exhibition of 1853. Much later, The Graphic stated that the actual design had been supplied to Messrs. Young by the civil engineer William Dredge, who was to provide Young's with a design for the Fine Art exhibition at Manchester in 1857. (fn. 23) The Prince was closely interested and had the plans sent to him at St. Cloud in August 1855 during the Paris exhibition. (fn. 24) The outcome was a tripartite structure of corrugated sheet-iron between cast-iron stanchions, which was completed in carcase by the spring of 1856. (fn. 25) In an attempt to avoid the extremes of temperature experienced in Paxton's Crystal Palace glazing was confined to windows low on each flank and a skylight along each of the three 'naves'. Internally the modular construction gave an acceptable effect (that can still be appreciated at Bethnal Green, see page 113), although it was immediately weakened by ceiling-in and subdivision (Plate 5b, 5c, 5d).
The outside, however, excited ridicule. The Prince did his best to relieve the blankness of the exterior by having it painted tent-fashion in green and white stripes, adding an almost graceful portecochère, shipped from Scotland, and planting evergreens in front. (At one stage, however, he was inclined to throw in his hand and leave the painting to the Department: 'only H.R.H. will take the liberty of saying that anything more abominable than it has been proposed to make it he cannot conceive'. (fn. 26)) But the ill-fame of the 'Brompton Boilers', as the iron museum was nicknamed, reflected adversely upon the Department's reputation, although it had had little say in the design. (fn. 27) The iron museum was handed over by the Commissioners to the Department to receive the Marlborough House collections in the spring of 1857. (fn. 28) The transfer of the Department from the Board of Trade to the Education Committee took effect at the same time (Order in Council February 1856, effective February 1857), and under these auspices the South Kensington Museum was opened on 22 June 1857. (fn. 29)
The major part of the ground floor of the iron museum was occupied by the Education Museum, a dense miscellany of books, appliances and diagrams, including models of new school buildings. Beyond it was the Museum of Ornamental Art, under J.C. Robinson, which had been vastly enlarged by the objects bought in 1855 from the Bernal Collection (Plate 5c). Also on the ground floor, under the eastern gallery, was the Museum of Construction, of which Captain Fowke was curator in his capacity as Inspector of Science and Art: it included the latest French fireproof floor, as well as cements, asphalts, tiles, bricks and woods. (fn. 30) Semper designed some display cases to demonstrate Australian Woods (fn. 31)—Fowke having made a special report from Paris on colonial hardwoods. In the western gallery Cole gave temporary sanctuary to a remarkable independent collection, the Architectural Museum, conducted under Gilbert Scott and Alexander Beresford-Hope and devised to train not architects, but 'architectural workmen'—stone-carvers, in particular—to master the newly important styles of Gothic (Plate 5d). Only a quarter of the casts were other than Gothic: Robinson, as a classical expert, incorporated them in a display of the predominantly classical casts inherited from Somerset and Marlborough Houses, which were joined by John Nash's collection of Greek and Roman casts (lent by the Office of Works from Hampton Court Palace) and by Wren's Great Model of St. Paul's Cathedral (lent by the Dean and Chapter). (fn. 32) The Department's few Gothic casts were placed upstairs within Scott's chronological sequence: this was displayed with a panache foreshadowing exhibition techniques of a century later, brass-rubbings being hung as banners to define the space and deflect the light.
The eastern gallery held the Museum of Animal Products, inherited direct from the 1851 Exhibition, and the Food Museum, arranged in 1858 by Lyon Playfair from part of the Society of Arts' 'Economic Museum' and intended to give 'lessons in household and health subjects, especially addressed to the working classes'. (fn. 33) With its startlingly realistic waxen models of lamb chops it undoubtedly alarmed the fastidious and the sophisticated, but Cole stoutly defended it—and it was popular. (fn. 34) The gallery at the northern end contained for a time another totally contrasting collection of independent origin, the Institute of British Sculptors' exhibition of recent works—cool white marbles bathed in discreet sentiment.
There was also the completely separate collection administered by the Commissioners of Patents. The latter could not agree with the Department's policy of charging for admission, so their collection had its own cottage-like entrance to the left of the porte-cochère (Plate 20c), adding to the rather endearing muddle of the museum frontage, where the 'Boilers' were soon only one of a miscellany of styles and materials. On the western part of the site the old buildings of Brompton Park House survived from Brompton's days as a well-to-do satellite of London (see page 6, Plate 4a, 4b, 4c) and were converted for use by the male and female schools of art: very soon they also accommodated the museum's detachment of sappers. Behind them wooden huts, brought from Marlborough House garden in 1856, (fn. 35) housed part of the male school.
Pennethorne's junction building and lecture theatre
In strong preference to another of Messrs. Young's iron structures the Department had these old and new premises linked to the 'Boilers' by one-storeyed 'junction' buildings of nine-inch stock brick (Plate 3b). They were intended to last only some twenty years and were cheaply constructed for the Office of Works in 1856 by John Kelk: the cost of between £6,000 and £7,000 was defrayed out of £10,000 voted by Parliament for the transference of the museum to Kensington. The architect was (Sir) James Pennethorne, and the effect was outwardly decent if unimposing, the style being a surprisingly oldfashioned Regency vernacular with windows set in shallow round-headed arches. (fn. 36) At the rear Pennethorne included a short-lived circular lecture theatre (with a plain squarish exterior) demolished c. 1865 (Plate 12c), which C. R. Cockerell called 'very elegant'. (fn. 37) The interior was decorated in colour by the painter Andrew MacCallum under Redgrave's supervision. (fn. 38) (The first speakers invited to lecture in the theatre were Ruskin, M. D. Wyatt, Owen Jones, Semper and Thackeray. (fn. 39)
Henceforward Kelk and the successors in his business, Messrs. Smith and Taylor, were generally employed for the museum buildings, until c. 1861 without competitive tendering. The use of one 'thoroughly responsible contractor' in the early years, rather than selection by competition, was explained by the difficulty of programming contracts when money was voted only in small uncertain instalments. (fn. 40)
The assortment of buildings was soon augmented by another, in wilfully contrasting materials. Here, however, Cole's team took over. The designer was Captain Francis Fowke (1823–65), of the Royal Engineers, who had joined the Department in the summer of 1856, being appointed its architect and engineer in November. (fn. 41) It seems that in this unobtrusive way the Department assumed from the Office of Works the responsibility for the design of its own buildings.
The first Refreshment Room and the Lodge
In the following month, December 1856, Fowke designed a large refreshment room and photographic room to be run up by Kelk (for a contract price of £1,788) at the south-east corner of the site (Plate 6). (fn. 42) It was a Bank-Holiday-looking structure of timber (demolished in 1867 (fn. 43)), paid for by the 1851 Exhibition Commissioners, who were anxious to make the museum a popular success in aid of South Kensington generally: its construction, however, obliged them to make it over rather quickly to the Government in order to evade the metropolitan building regulations. (fn. 44) The plans were approved by Prince Albert, (fn. 45) and the thin, stick-like half-timbering was that of Dürer's Germany rather than Shakespeare's England. Fowke expressed the structure with an almost cast-iron clarity, particularly in the diagonal bracing of the walls and in the polygonal staircase-bay. (At first, the ground floor was less enclosed than is shown in Plate 6b.) The interior was decorated by a lecturer in the Art Training School, Octavius Hudson, (fn. 46) and gave almost a 'peasant' atmosphere of festivity. The very direct structure of slim unchamfered timber stanchions and radiating diagonal struts was covered with naïvely repetitive semi-abstract patterns, no doubt derived in detail from Owen Jones's Grammar of Ornament, published a few months before, but also in general painted effect reminiscent of German vernacular.
Further west along the frontage, by the main gate, another rather strange building appeared within a few years in a neat little rustic entrance lodge-cum-guardhouse, probably built early in 1861. It had a pyramidal roof of scalloped tiles and walls geometrically patterned in a 'Pisan' arrangement of lozenges, perhaps in coloured plaster. (fn. 47) The construction (which was recorded in photographs) was, however, of concrete. (fn. 48)
The Sheepshanks Gallery and later
At the time of his appointment Fowke was already planning a much more important addition. This was a brick building to extend north from the north-west end of the iron museum (Plates 7b, 7c, 14c, 39d; fig. 1 on plan-sheet A in end pocket). (fn. 49) Unlike those already mentioned, it survives in the present museum, approximately as Rooms 26, 29, 84, 92, 93, but is unrecognizable by reason of the later refacing of the quadrangle and the building of what is now Room 38. It was a two-storeyed structure, begun in November 1856, and designed to contain on the upper floorthe collection of recent British paintings being presented to the nation by John Sheepshanks on condition that it was housed at Kensington. This benefaction had been determined upon in summer 1856 and was formalized in February 1857. (fn. 50) It required the gallery to be built in twelve months, but this was not a large structure (about 87 feet by 50 feet) and was sufficiently completed in its upper storey to be opened with the iron museum in June 1857. The ground floor, for the more valuable objects of the museum's collections that could not remain in the leaking and inflammable iron museum (which was being found 'unsuitable in every respect for the conservation of articles of value') was completed a year or so later. (fn. 51) The Sheepshanks Gallery cost the Department some £5,000, at about 6d. a cubic foot. (fn. 52) John Kelk was the builder. (fn. 53) The Prince Consort had been a keen advocate of the building and was pleased with it when finished. (fn. 54) So was Cole; and Red-grave, who was responsible for the practical planning of the interior as a picture gallery, thought it externally 'a little gem'. (fn. 55)
In many respects the Sheepshanks Gallery foreshadowed 'South Kensington' practice. The lighting arrangements were very carefully considered and effective. The two different pitches of the mansard-type roof expressed two different light-dispersing surfaces inside the upper galleries: the low-pitched double-glazed skylight with deep transverse trusses diffusing the brightness, and the dominant longitudinal coving on each side, butted up against the cross-wall at either end, helping to throw the light downwards into the room. (This system of skylights and longitudinal coves butting against cross-walls was followed in the 1862 Exhibition picture galleries and in the Eastern and Western Galleries of 1871.) To avoid reflected 'glitter' on the picture surfaces the proportions were so adjusted that for a spectator standing a reasonable ten feet from the pictures, the glitter point would be above any picture's top frame. (fn. 56) Cole called it 'the best lighted gallery in Europe'. (fn. 57) A very prominent utilitarian detail was the continuous row of gas jets on a pipe running centrally beneath the skylight—this being the first public art gallery designed specifically for gas lighting: a travelling carriage invented by Fowke permitted almost instantaneous ignition. (fn. 58) (fn. 1) There was a nearly complete absence of stylistic detail internally. The walls were a neutral sage green, the dado and doors were in three shades of grey, and the floor was of red tiles, the red being carried into some of the lesser wood mouldings. (fn. 60) Outside, Fowke introduced, if somewhat gawkily, the Italian Romanesque style with coupled, round-headed windows (here blind) which became the vernacular of 'South Kensington'. The external brickwork was polychromatic, 'disposed . . . with the general idea that the portions of the structure which bear the greatest weight should be pointed out by the darkest colour'. (fn. 61) (This Butterfieldian treatment almost immediately gave way in further buildings at South Kensington, however, to bright red brick.) The light-coloured 'tuile Courtois', made by J. M. Blashfield, was varied by zigzag bands of red tiles. (fn. 62) Attached colonettes seeming to support the window-arches concealed an arrangement to get rainwater into the museum's main drain. (fn. 63) Partly under the influence of Semper's practice at Hamburg, sgraffito decoration by Andrew MacCallum was used on the west elevation to display artists' and architects' portraits over helpful lists of their principal works, their dates, and quotations from their biographies. (fn. 61)
Continuing northward the alignment of the iron museum parallel to the eastern boundary, the Sheepshanks Gallery perpetuated the skew relationship to the southern frontage. It also seems to have set a precedent for inconsistencies and variations of level. According to Fowke it was 'on a level with the corresponding Museum floors', but the published plan of the upper floor shows three steps between it and the galleries of the iron museum. (fn. 64) Later, in 1861, Fowke proposed lowering the ground floor to the level of his new South Court but only half the floor was ordered to be lowered. (fn. 65)
If the Sheepshanks Gallery was, further, a prototype for what seems arbitrarily façadist in some South Kensington buildings—the use, literally, of 'applied' art—there was a purpose in this formulated by Redgrave: 'our object is to fit [a building] for use, and then to decorate it afterwards'. (fn. 66) This was a practical response to the difficulty of attracting funds on an annual basis from the Treasury for anything more than basic floorspace in the first instance and a phased programme of fitting-out thereafter. The Ruskinian Gothic preaching of truth and honesty and thus of total three-dimensional integrity for each building from the start could cause acute difficulties for those architects like Street at the Law Courts who attempted to practise it in the teeth of the civil service. In any case, the realization of the fire-risk in iron buildings (soon sharpened by the Tooley Street fire of 1861) led naturally, when skylit art galleries were proposed, to the erection of solid-walled boxes inviting surface ornamentation such as that of the Sheepshanks Gallery.
The Vernon and Turner Galleries and north and east ranges
In the summer of 1858 the partnership between the Government and the 1851 Commissioners in the tenure of the South Kensington estate was condemned: (fn. 67) the main rectangle west of Exhibition Road passed into the Commissioners' undivided ownership but the Department's site was excepted from the arrangement and the Commissioners ceased to concern themselves actively with its use (see page 62, note). Since February Lord Derby's government had held office, and proved on the whole more positive in support of the Department's projects than Palmerston's. In particular, the Conservatives' Lord President of the Council, the second Marquess of Salisbury (himself something of an amateur of architecture), was sympathetic to the Department's ambition to expand its building. He was, furthermore, an admirer of Fowke. (fn. 68) Cole was rather averse to further building of a provisional character. He was, however, in Italy in the latter months of 1858, and one December night Lord Salisbury told Fowke, who was a fellow-guest with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Disraeli, at Hatfield, that the Department could begin a new 'temporary' building, to house the National Gallery's Vernon and Turner collections that were then in need of a home. At breakfast next morning Fowke announced that the foundations had been begun. (fn. 2) (fn. 69) To prevent obstruction by Treasury officials Fowke and Redgrave hurried on the erection of the bare brick range northward of the Sheepshanks Gallery (Plates 7b, 19b). Kelk had 300,000 bricks laid in three weeks, and it was more-or-less finished in February 1859. (fn. 70) The experts who reported to the Office of Works, including Pennethorne and C. R. Cockerell, were not, however, impressed by the construction, and the building was so damp the Vernon and Turner galleries could not be opened until December. (fn. 71) They cost some £8,200 and the Department boasted of their cheapness at 3½d. a cubic foot. (fn. 72) Internally the new galleries carried on the unobtrusive style of the Sheepshanks Gallery. Some were coloured 'dull mulberry lilac', like the rooms of the National Gallery, others sea green. (fn. 73) A north range at right angles, to contain the female training school for art as well as museum galleries, followed immediately, and an east range, forming a court, in 1860–1. (fn. 74) (Cole spent part of a wet Easter Monday in 1859 Playing trapball with his staff under the newly building galleries. (fn. 75)) Despite the temporary character of parts of their original structure, (fn. 76) all these ranges survive, though unrecognizably, as the north-east part of the museum (approximately, all northward of Rooms 26, 29, 32, 33). By these hastily built structures the eastern part of the museum's plan was now determined, aligned on the 'temporary' iron museum and the eastern site-boundary.
As first constructed they were brutally plain outside and contributed negatively to the museum's appearance. Taxed by a member of a Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1860 with their appearance—'about the most frightful thing in the world'—Cole blandly defended their aspect, especially rearward: 'We do not happen to want an architectural elevation there; you look upon the churchyard [of Holy Trinity, Brompton] in one part, and there are the stables [Princes Gate Mews] at the back ... I maintain that it is as sightly as it ought to be, considering its situation.' (fn. 77) Fowke himself took a similar viewpoint: the new galleries 'were never meant to be an ornamental front; ... It would have been a great waste of money to have made the backs of those buildings anything more than they are'. (fn. 78) When asked 'It is only the Sheepshanks Gallery which can be seen?' he answered 'Yes' (fn. 79)—but in that he was less than honest. On the west side, at least, a peculiarly painful feature of the Vernon and Turner building was, until 1901, to be its careless junction with Sheepshanks within what became the central quadrangle of the museum (Plate 7b).
Buildings and Projects c. 1860–c. 1873
The character of the work of this period was greatly influenced by the fact that in the summer of 1859 the Department obtained the services as decorative artist of a master at the Sheffield School of Art, Godfrey Sykes, who had been an informal pupil of Alfred Stevens and brought with him a decorative sense very close to Stevens's own. (fn. 80) He quickly established good relations with Fowke, Cole and Redgrave, and became predominantly responsible for the decorative style of the Department. His wide scope as a designer is discussed in the previous chapter: drawings and letters preserved in the museum confirm that his contribution was not confined to decoration in the more limited sense but extended to architectural detailing. He clothed Fowke's ingenious but rather uninspiring compositions with the craftsmanship and humanist idealism of the Renaissance as taught by Stevens—much more in the mood of late nineteenth-century connoisseurship than of mid nineteenth-century revivalism. In fact it was this spirit of connoisseurship in the decorations which helped South Kensington to avoid the Battle of the Styles. On the bronze doors in the quadrangle (modelled by 1867, Plate 13b) Architecture is personified by Bramante, but in the museum buildings the 'Gothic' and 'Classical' elements were unified, as in the German rund-bogenstil, by a new scholarly understanding of the continuity in Italian art which existed between Cimabue and Michelangelo.
If the museum buildings themselves expressed a tendency of general currency it was rather the search for a 'new style', supposedly subservient to structure and material. Cole in 1867 proclaimed the adherence of the museum to the principles of the École Centrale d'Architecture in Paris, in terms familiar from Viollet-le-Duc, (fn. 81) and often spoke of Fowke's and Sykes's creation of a decorative style that would assimilate iron construction and the use of materials resistant to London's atmosphere.
The financial necessity of piecemeal building Cole and Fowke turned into a profound virtue, exploiting the slow tempo to permit experimental teaching and research in the applied arts related to architecture, under Sykes's artistic leadership. This had a wide reference at South Kensington, discussed in the previous chapter. Within the museum, even after buildings were open to visitors works of decoration continued upon the bare walls before their eyes, making it a consciously didactic workshop-museum of modern applied arts, with a direct visual relationship, in an age when building was still essentially hand-crafted, between the work of 1860 and the exhibits of 1360 or 1560.
The Select Committee of 1860 and completion plans
In the summer of 1860 the museum was the object of the enquiry by a Select Committee of the House of Commons already mentioned. Under the chairmanship of the Vice-President of the Council, the as-yet well disposed Robert Lowe, it included members sympathetic both to practical construction, in the railway engineer Joseph Locke and the munificent builder William Cubitt, and also to Renaissance ornamental art, in the collectors George Cavendish Bentinck and William Stirling. The committee was impressed both by the popularity of the museum, and its economy. The former, no doubt, was attributable to the spectacular and glamorous art acquisitions under J. C. Robinson—housed, for the most part, in absurdly makeshift premises. Fowke took the opportunity to produce to the committee the first of the Department's unfulfilled schemes for the completion of the museum buildings (Plate 18a. See also fig. 2 (1865) on plan A in end pocket).
The site was not rectangular but Fowke told the committee that by his scheme 'the irregularity will not be apparent'. Two other considerations were basic to his plan: 'The western and southern front [to Exhibition Road and Cromwell Gardens] would be ornamental elevations' whereas there would be no ornament at all on the north and east where 'it would be thrown away'; secondly, 'the whole of it could be executed piecemeal' over some ten years, 'and each part would be immediately rendered available' as soon as it was finished. (fn. 82) Fowke's scheme (fn. 83) was pragmatic, economical and frankly conceived in terms of elegant façades to conceal difficulties. Compared with the museum as it actually developed, the buildings were to be lower, more generously spaced, and much more open to the south. West of the existing ranges a splay-sided quadrangle with its further side parallel to the site's western boundary was to look south across an open arcade (for the display of sculpture) to a great courtyard spreading out between quadrant colonnades to Cromwell Gardens in a sequence possibly recalling one of Pennethorne's plans for the ground west of Exhibition Road in 1853. (fn. 84) For its expression Fowke, with Godfrey Sykes at his elbow, had developed a repetitive vocabulary of cloisters and loggias—a processional architecture of movement, appropriate to crowds of visitors—similar to that which they had so successfully designed in the previous year for the Horticultural Society's garden. Punctuation of the long façades was to be given by a series of three-storeyed pavilions with pyramid roofs of pantiles, logically marking the staircase towers and entrance halls. The bigger pavilions on either side of the entrance forecourt were to be very similar in character to those actually erected for the Department to Fowke's designs (with detailing by Sykes) in 1861–6 at the Scottish Industrial Museum in Edinburgh, which survive as part of the Royal Scottish Museum. The peculiar appropriateness to South Kensington of Fowke's repetitive loggias and pavilions was that they were of an incremental unit-by-unit character, expressing visually the rhythm of annual drips from the Treasury tap.
Fowke thought that the whole might cost about £214,000. The committee's report was generally very favourable to the museum and it recommended the urgent execution of works to the extent of £44,000. (fn. 85) It did not explicitly recommend Fowke's full scheme, but Cole elicited a general approval of ultimate completion with 'a proper amount of decoration', despite the routine rejection of 'mere ornament'. He was doubtless pleased when the publication of the report was quickly followed by a letter from the Prince's secretary saying 'the Façade of the proposed Buildings for the Museum is beautiful'. (fn. 86) At all events, the museum authorities were inclined to interpret the report more expansively than its wording strictly permitted, and a phase of more ambitious building activity was sustained for the next ten years, followed by another thirteen years or so at a slower rate of progress.
The North and South Courts
When Sykes had begun work at the museum, in autumn 1859, planning was already in hand to convert the quickly building quadrangle north of the iron museum into a major display area by roofing it over. Fowke, Cole and Redgrave visited Oxford, thought the roof of the University Museum there 'quite a muddle', and determined to avoid a forest of iron columns. (fn. 87) The Select Committee of 1860 approved Fowke's plan to cover the northern part of the area—the North Court—with a large octagonal glass dome to light and ventilate the surrounding galleries. (fn. 88) It is significant in view of later praise for Paxton's 'ridge-and-furrow' roof at the Crystal Palace that Fowke specifically excluded such a system on practical grounds: 'the more gutters you have in a building, the more leaks you are likely to have'. The eight iron columns supporting the dome were to be cased with brickwork against fire. (fn. 89) Prince Albert had taken part in discussion of the architectural treatment of this scheme in September 1859. (fn. 90) It was, however, abandoned and there was substituted a roof of cross-shaped design comprising five glazed pyramids supported, without any columns at all, by iron girders that left the space below unobstructed for display purposes (Plate 8a, 8b). (fn. 91) These girders were lodged into new walls carried up from a series of segmental arches built on to the lower buttresses of the existing walls, which remain, encased, behind the new brickwork. (fn. 92) On the completion of the court in 1862 The Builder found the interior effect of the roof 'ugly beyond permission'. It lit a court with sage-green and lilac walls, designed to house large exhibits, into which opened the surrounding ground-floor galleries, where were arranged objects 'best seen in a low light'. (fn. 93) Schemes for the further embellishment of this North Court—by earthenware mosaic copies of the Raphael cartoons, for example (fn. 94)—were long entertained. (fn. 95) F. W. Moody worked on some projects but the prospective loss of wall-space for exhibits and interference with the display of objects caused them to be suspended in 1874. (fn. 96) Much altered, North Court is now chiefly reserved for the Circulation Department on the ground floor, lying north of Rooms 28, 38, 38A and the Restaurant area, and on the first floor comprises, with its surrounding apartments, Rooms 81–2, 87–90, 94–9, and the inserted Rooms 103–106B.
At the north-west corner of the North Court the grand North staircase designed by Fowke, with Sykesian decoration, survives in what is now a service area (Plate 11b). It was brought into use in 1865 and the decoration completed in 1868. (fn. 97) The fine ceiling designed by Reuben Townroe from a Sykes sketch remains (fig. 23) (fn. 98) but the staircase lacks Townroe's and Moody's stained-glass windows, made by Lavers and Barraud and Powell and Sons respectively. (fn. 99) In 1870 the walls were maroon-tinted with a chocolate dado and the dark panelled ceiling was relieved by gold, white and grey. (fn. 100) The stateliness of the staircase was appropriate to the Raphael cartoons lent by the Queen in 1865 for display in the large and simple apartment near its head, now Room 94, (fn. 101) and the enrichment of the scheme for the stairhead in January of that year perhaps had reference to this acquisition. (fn. 102)
Between the North Court and the iron museum were built two galleries east and west of an open ground-floor arcade surmounted by a narrow gallery (the Prince Consort Gallery) (Plates 8d, 9a, b, c). As in the North Court, the erection of this tripartite South Court, of exposed iron construction, was superintended for Fowke by his assistant, the engineer, J. W. Grover (b. 1836). (fn. 103) Unlike the North Court, however, the existing walls on the east and west sides of the court were not masked in their upper parts by new walling, and the coupled, round-headed 'windows' on the first floor of the Sheepshanks Gallery's eastern façade formed an important motif in the new court. This became a prime example of Sykes's art. The cast ironwork, as well as the decorative form of the wrought ironwork, was designed by Sykes, not Fowke. (fn. 104) The latter, in consultation with Redgrave, had rejected the casing of iron columns here in brick or terra-cotta as too expensive and difficult: also, 'a terra cotta muffler . . . would be very clumsy'. (fn. 105) But he thought that the resultant columns, designed December 1861–March 1862, were 'like bed posts'. (fn. 106) Publicly, however, the South Kensington circle was proud of Sykes's treatment of ironwork. (fn. 107) Sykes's obituarist (probably J. H. Pollen) commented that in the South Court 'he has been, perhaps, the first artist who has ventured to take the mere structural forms of ribs and bolts of iron-work and make them decorative on their own surfaces'. (fn. 108) (The South Court is now unrecognizable as, approximately, Rooms 38, 38A and the Restaurant area on the ground floor and the area between Rooms 102 and 109 on the first floor.)
The North Court was opened in the spring and the South Court in the summer of 1862, (fn. 109) in time to house a superb loan exhibition of medieval and renaissance art, which perceptibly strengthened the museum's hold on the public. (fn. 3) Ornamentation of the South Court in monochrome and polychrome continued to be added. (fn. 111) In 1865 it was said 'the prevailing tints are light and cool, and the positives appear only in small portions'. (fn. 112) A later description stated that 'brown relieved with gold, and blue with white, form the key of the scale of colour'. (fn. 104) (The intricate colouring of the girders and upper walls survives above the Restaurant ceiling.) With the view through them closed at the north end by a 'fernery' (provided in c. 1863 to give the art-school students plant-life to copy) (fn. 113) the North and South Courts established the un-austere 'atmospheric' character of the museum's display-methods that led critics to complain that it was 'more suitable for soiree and lounging rooms, than for purposes of study'. (fn. 114)
The use of architectural exhibits as part of the museum's structure was in favour at that time, and was particularly used on the quiet walls of the North Court with telling effect (Plate 8a, 8b). Notable Florentine examples were the cantoria from S. Maria Novella that served as a balcony looking into the Court from the end of the Prince Consort Gallery, and the tribune from S. Chiara facing the cantoria from the centre of the north side. (fn. 115) The Department decided against this practice in 1863 but it was not discontinued and some exhibits remained (until 1908) incorporated in the North Court, contributing to the general richness of effect. (fn. 116)
But the Department thought the North and South Courts also functionally efficient in the type of lighting they gave and in 1891 still considered them exemplary. (fn. 117)
South-east of the South Court the dignified East staircase was designed by Fowke. The tile pavements are by Moody (steps and landings) and Minton, Hollins and Company (foot of staircase), and the metal balustrade and plaster ceiling by Sykes. The metal central ceiling motif is, as on the North staircase, rather suggestive of Owen Jones's influence. The staircase was built in conjunction with the southernmost two bays of Rooms 100–101 and an office range (see below) in 1864–5. It was opened (though with its ceiling unpainted) in 1865, some years before the southward extension of the museum's permanent galleries which it was partly intended to serve. (fn. 118)
Further west Fowke had in 1862 already begun the large new court envisaged in 1860, with a range containing galleries on the ground floor and four official residences above, under a roof of 'imitation Italian roof tiles' by Robert Brown of Surbiton Hill. (fn. 119) This is the west side of the quadrangle (Rooms 17–20 and 70–73) (Plate 12a, 12b). The range was being planned in autumn 1861, when Cole partially resisted the grandeur of scale proposed by Fowke for the residential accommodation. (fn. 120) It was begun in March 1862 and finished a year later. (fn. 121) Terra-cotta was substituted for brickwork in pilaster-capitals a year later still (Plate 12b, 12c): (fn. 122) the terra-cotta frieze over the first-floor windows was designed by James Gamble, and the rest of the terra-cotta by Sykes. (fn. 119) Originally the external woodwork was painted chocolate. (fn. 123) Its admirers included Watts and Eastlake, and the Crown Prince of Prussia told Cole he would have Berlin cathedral built in the same style. (fn. 124) The rear elevation looking towards Exhibition Road was much simpler and had something of an authentic Italian air to it. By Fowke's own calculation the residences cost nearly £18,000, but he justified this outlay to critics by the architectural requirements of the location. (fn. 125)
Early in 1863 Gladstone, as Palmerston's Chancellor of the Exchequer, had an economical plan to move the collections across the road into the vacated 1862 Exhibition building. (fn. 126) This was averted and by May 1864 the important north side of the quadrangle, the intended culmination of the museum-buildings as seen from the south, had been begun (Plates 13c, 14b, 14c, 18b, 18c). (fn. 127) It progressed slowly, and it was only in June 1865 that the granite columns prepared for the first-floor recessed arcade were superseded by Sykes's much-admired terra-cotta columns, encasing iron stanchions, which were installed early in 1866. (fn. 128) (The granite columns were reserved for use elsewhere in the museum, and are, conjecturally, the six in the central corridor of the Cast Courts.) The first-floor arcade was perhaps envisaged at one time as an approach to the (second) Lecture Theatre via a great double staircase from the quadrangle, as is shown on a later plan. (fn. 129)
This north side was basically completed in 1866—the date given in the iron roof-cresting—by the contractors, Smith and Taylor, to whom Cawte of Fareham supplied the bricks. (fn. 130) In October the Queen, at Cole's prompting, let Disraeli, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, know that she had been 'much struck with the beauty of that portion of the new buildings that has been already finished'. (fn. 131) Majolica, terra-cotta and various mosaic decorations by Gamble and Townroe continued, however, until at least 1872. (fn. 132)
The design of the terra-cotta columns of the central recess (Plates 12d, 13a, 14a), with their vigorously modelled bands of figure-reliefs, and of the ironwork cresting of the roof is by Sykes; of the pediment tympanum, the figure-panels on the flanking attic storeys, and the mosaic lunettes by Townroe; of the majolica soffits of the central recess, the principal red terra-cotta frieze, and the terra-cotta base of the flagstaff by Gamble; and of the mosaic roundels and majolica spandrels in the recess, the bronze doors and the majolica figures over it by Gamble and Townroe after Sykes (Plate 13b). (fn. 133) The terra-cotta groups of 'Instruction' at the ends of the balustrade are by Percival Ball and were made c. 1870 by Doulton and Company: Ball was paid £250. (fn. 134) The rest of the terra-cotta was made by Blanchard and Company. The mosaic of the roundels was made by A. Salviati of Venice and by Jesse Rüst and W. B. Simpson and Company: (fn. 133) the last two, though more expensive than Salviati, were chosen in order to test English work in this 'comparatively new' art under the same conditions as Venetian. (fn. 135) The mosaic of the tympanum, figure-panels and lunettes is by the Museum Mosaic Class superintended by Minton, Hollins and Company, and majolica-work in the central recess is by Minton, Hollins and Company. The ironwork is by Hart, Son and Peard. (fn. 133)
The bronze doors, electrotyped by G. Franchi and Son, were gilded and fixed by 1869: the panel-figures by Gamble and Townroe after Sykes were shown at the Paris exhibition of 1867. (fn. 136) The Department chose a very cheap method of gilding, but something of this was evidently still visible in 1899. (fn. 137) In 1869 the mosaic tympanum of the pediment had to be altered to darken its colouring, despite previous trials and changes. Cole had understandably insisted on the Great Exhibition as the subject, rather against the wishes of Redgrave and Sykes. (fn. 138)
The National Art Training School and Department's Offices
Behind this court another, out of sight, was formed by very plain ranges planned in 1861–2 and built in 1863. Over museum galleries on the ground floor, they were occupied by the National Art Training School, with great studio-windows carried up into the roof, movable internal partitions, and carefully arranged separate access for male and female students. (fn. 139) The otherwise spartan decor is relieved on the staircase by two memorials: that commemorating Richard Burchett, headmaster 1852–75, erected in 1876 to a design in pink alabaster by the painter George Clausen, (fn. 140) with a bust by Henrietta Montalba; and the 1914–18 war memorial, by P. Metcalfe. From the west range access is gained to the school's mural studio, very fully glazed, which adjoins at a high level the museum's lecture theatre. The builders were Smith and Taylor, who in 1862 succeeded Kelk in his business and as the usual general contractors for the museum. (fn. 141) (fn. 4)
East of the iron museum an equally plain office and store-room range flanked Brompton Oratory (Plate 20c). Built c. 1864, a southward extension of c. 1868–9 included the Department's boardroom over the service-road gateway (with a surviving chimneypiece by Gamble). (fn. 143)
The completion plan: amendments
Meanwhile Fowke's scheme for the great concave south front received various adjustments after 1860. (fn. 144) In 1862 there were suggestions that it should constitute the memorial to Prince Albert with the Prince's statue in front or alternatively in the quadrangle. (fn. 145) In spring 1865 the Department's political heads asked for working drawings to be hastened (fn. 146) and the whole plan as revised was put to the Treasury in the month of Fowke's death, December 1865 (Plate 18b, 18c; fig. 2 on plan-sheet A in end pocket). It was estimated that it would need an additional vote of about £420,000. (fn. 147) Gladstone was unsympathetic but in May 1866 the Treasury sanctioned a more limited expenditure, of £195,000 over the next six years. (fn. 148) In June 1866 Disraeli replaced Gladstone at the Treasury—seemingly a good omen for the Department, particularly with the Queen encouraging him to complete the museum. (fn. 131) In the following year Cole went to Paris for the exhibition, taking Henry Scott and J. W. Wild with him. While sightseeing at Versailles they decided to abandon Fowke's single-storeyed arcade across the south side of the quadrangle for a more substantial range; an addition that, when it eventually came to be built, made the quadrangle seem overenclosed. (fn. 149) In 1869 the concave south front was finally abandoned for a more economical arrangement, (fn. 150) perhaps partly because with the Liberals back and an increasingly unsympathetic Robert Lowe at the Treasury the future seemed less expansive. In fact, the Treasury stopped further work that summer. The grant of funds in 1866 had sufficed to commence some new building, including the Cast Courts in 1868 (see below), but after 1869 progress was intermittent, and the grand south front was in fact never built during the existence of the Department.
Interiors: South Court mosaics
The decorative work undertaken during the 1860's inside the museum was very extensive. In the South Court Sykes's decoration and polychroming of the structure mentioned above was strikingly augmented by pictorial work. A cloister against the north wall was adorned with mosaic portrait-heads of Presidents of the Board of Trade and Lords President of the Council, made c. 1869–76 from paintings by F. B. Barwell (which gave the court its alternative name of the Lord Presidents' Court). More conspicuously, mosaic designs for figure-panels of artists and artworkers were commissioned from 1862 to be executed in the coupled round-headed recesses of the upper side-walls (those on the west being the pre-existing blind windows of the Sheepshanks Gallery). They were to be in various forms of mosaic and demonstrated the Department's faith in experimentation, in the wide distribution of commissions, and in execution by both the more and the less experienced (Plate 10c). (fn. 151) The Art Journal in 1864 thought the preparatory designs, on the whole, amateurish. (fn. 152) The mosaics were executed from 1865 until the early 1870's. (fn. 153) The twenty-seven designers included Leighton, Poynter, Tenniel, Watts and Westlake, and the executants Salviati and the British firms of Harland and Fisher, W. B. Simpson, and Minton, Hollins and Company (who superintended the Museum Mosaic Class, in which Cole's female relations were prominently represented). (fn. 151) (fn. 5) One of Cole's last actions as head of the museum, in 1872, was to persuade his acquaintance of old, J. M. Whistler, to design mosaic figures of an Egyptian and Japanese artworker for the South Court, but they were never installed. (fn. 154)
The Leighton frescoes in Rooms 102, 109
The adornment of the four great lunettes at the north and south ends of the east and west compartments of this Court was also to be pictorial, and had a long, uncompleted history extending beyond the period under immediate discussion. (fn. 155) At first, only two lunettes were available, as the southern end of the Court was closed by a temporary wall. In 1863 G. F. Watts agreed to design a fresco for one of the lunettes, Cole suggesting 'scenes of manufacture' as subject. (fn. 156) Early in 1865 the Department announced a competition for a design on a similar theme for the other lunette, to be executed by students in mosaic (probably glass). (fn. 157) The invitation to Watts was renewed and specific invitations were also given to Stacy Marks and Eyre Crowe—also, perhaps, to Leighton and Madox Brown. (fn. 158) Watts's sketch was inspected by Cole, (fn. 159) but the competition was unproductive and later that year Moody was commissioned to make a lunette-design from Raphael's 'School of Athens' for realization in earthenware mosaic. (fn. 160) Early in 1868 this design was found unsuitable (although it was prominently displayed in one of the lunettes as late as 1875). (fn. 161) In July the first real progress was made towards the frescoes that now exist. Leighton and Watts were officially asked to supply designs for the two northern lunettes (with a similar invitation in prospect for the southern lunettes of the extension to be built in 1869–71) and for the five panels in each of the soffits of the arches over the two lunettes. If Leighton or Watts had declined, J. R. Herbert was to have been asked, but neither did. The price for each lunette-design was £1,000 and for each panel-design £100. (fn. 162) Watts eventually dropped out (in January 1874 (fn. 163)) but Leighton was at work in 1869 and produced a design for the north-east lunette illustrating 'Industrial Art as Applied to War' by the end of 1870. (fn. 164) The idea of execution in mosaic seems by then to have been given up, at least so far as Leighton's design was concerned, and he was assuming that the finished work would be a fresco-painting. At that stage he was vehemently rejecting the use of student-labour on the final version. (fn. 165) A large monochrome cartoon and a colour sketch were finished in January 1872: the latter is preserved in the museum. (fn. 166) In that month the Department admiringly asked Leighton's terms for a full-size design, and requested him to execute a companion design for the south-eastern lunette. Richard Redgrave particularly commended his cartoon as an example to students for its high, careful finish—'a corrective to carelessness and haste which the young are too apt to think are correlative to genius'. (fn. 167)
In 1871 F. R. Pickersgill had been commissioned to provide a design for one of the lunettes on the same terms as Leighton's commission of 1868. (fn. 168) This illustrated the complementary 'Peace' subject, for which his large cartoon was exhibited in 1875 and is still in the museum. (fn. 169) Leighton also began a design for 'Industrial Art as Applied to Peace' in 1872. (fn. 170)
Cole's departure from the museum in 1873 seems to have caused another lull. But in 1875 the Department, after briefly reverting to the idea of execution in (hexagonal) mosaic in respect of Pickersgill's cartoon, (fn. 171) commissioned Leighton and Pickersgill to execute frescoes on two of the lunettes at £3,000 and £1,200 respectively, for the 'War' and 'Peace' subjects. Both, now, were to be assisted by students. (fn. 172) Pickersgill's fresco (although still in prospect in 1877 (fn. 173)) was never executed.
Leighton's north-eastern lunette was to be painted in the technique of spirit fresco, invented by Thomas Gambier Parry, and more delay followed, partly on the latter's advice, to ensure the thorough preparation of the ground. The further full-size cartoon was executed in 1876–7 and the fresco itself in 1878–80. (fn. 174) Cole, rather against his real opinion, hailed it anonymously in The Times as a great work. (fn. 175) The Artist found that it caused 'exaltation of mind' but questioned its subject-matter 'in this century of armour-plates and breech-loaders'. (fn. 176) It is still in situ in the eastern part of the corridor now called Room 102 where, having been walled-off from the former South Court in c. 1950, it can be seen even less well than in 1880. Schemes to build a 'bridge' or balconies in the Court to view it better from a distance had come to nothing. They had annoyed Cole who thought it wrong 'to alter Architecture to see Decoration". (fn. 177)
After some foot-dragging by the Treasury Leighton painted the companion 'Peace' fresco from 1883 (the full-size cartoon) to 1886, also for £3,000, at the opposite, south-east end of the Court (Plate 10c). (This is now the eastern part of Room 109, similarly walled-off. (fn. 178)) The colour sketch and full-size cartoon survive. (fn. 179) At the western ends of Rooms 102 and 109 the lunettes formerly overlooking the western compartment of the South Court remain blank.
Leighton had sought criticism of his cartoons from Edward von Steinle in Frankfurt, who evidently admired these works of his old pupil. (fn. 180) Assessment today is made difficult by their deteriorated condition and loss of colour. They proved, in fact, poor advertisements for the method of spirit fresco. Some criticized the 'War' fresco for being painted on too coarse a ground, (fn. 181) but both frescoes soon needed cleaning, and it was the later fresco, 'Peace', that showed itself the more liable to deterioration. It needed major restoration in 1897, 1904 and 1910, by James Ward, who had executed the underpainting and background painting of the frescoes under Leighton's direction. He was inclined to blame the smoothness rather than the roughness of the surface. Another restoration of the frescoes was necessary in 19 24–5. (fn. 182)
In the end, neither Leighton nor Watts painted the soffits over the lunettes. Sketches by Sykes for the northern soffits (Room 102) had by c. 1875 been applied in monochrome. (fn. 104) By 1876 the north-western soffit had been painted in colour (possibly by Townroe) with Sykes's representation of Architecture and with some of his ornamental panels. (fn. 183) Between 1876 and 1880 students under Moody decorated the eastern soffit (over 'War', Plate 22b) and also the western soffit at the south end (Room 109). (fn. 184) In 1882–3 Moody painted the eastern soffit there (over 'Peace'), but he was then failing and in 1886 the Office of Works authorized its repainting by W. E. F. Britten. The latter's designs were strongly recommended by Leighton, who wanted them to be 'broad in effect and colour' compared with the more highly-wrought soffits of the Department's artists. (fn. 185)
The Prince Consort Gallery and interiors surrounding the North and South Courts
Between the lunettes in Room 102 a mosaic portrait of the Prince Consort marks what was formerly the northern end of the Prince Consort Gallery (now shut off as Room 110, Plate 9b, 9d). Here 'many of the most interesting and costly possessions of the Museum' were displayed. (fn. 186) The decorative scheme for the gallery was planned by Sykes in 1863 and the portrait executed by Cole's daughter Letitia in 1865 from Sykes's design. (fn. 187) The friendly Athenaeum praised it as 'the first completed specimen of English earthen mosaics', but announced that 'the red neck-tie, an exceptional portion of the work, is made of glass mosaic, brought from St. Petersburg . . .' (fn. 188) (The neck-tie is now seemingly obfuscated.)
In the Oriental Courts on the east side of the South Court (now unrecognizable as the service area of the Restaurant) Owen Jones designed the polychrome decorations and tile pavements of the Indian Room (executed 1863–5) and Chinese and Japanese Rooms (in progress 1864–5) (Plate 11c). (fn. 189) They were called 'splendid to the last degree' in 1864. (fn. 190) The windows, imitating a mosque's rather in Jones's manner, with plaster tracery and stained glass, were designed in 1865–6 by his brother-in-law, J. W. Wild, and were executed by Powell and Sons. (fn. 191) On the south wall a mosaic portrait of Jones, designed by Townroe and again executed by Powell's, was erected as a memorial to Jones after his death in 1874. (fn. 192)
Above the Oriental Courts, the Watercolour or Competition Galleries (Rooms 100–101), were embellished in 1864–6 with lunette-paintings by a dozen minor artists that have since been removed to store (Plates 3a, 11a). The over-doors at the south ends contained paintings by F. R. Pickersgill and Val Prinsep commissioned in 1869. (fn. 193) Decoration by Gamble and Moody was still being commissioned in 1875. (fn. 194) By these galleries the museum's standard of unobtrusiveness may be assessed, as the general scheme (as well as two lunette designs) was Red-grave's. (fn. 195)
At the same time, in 1864–5, the interiors of Rooms 95–99 were given a rather more elaborate decoration on the coving and on the framing of wall panels and doors. The crisp interlocking foliage ornament is closely related to designs of 1850–1 for Hoole's by Alfred Stevens, and can reasonably be attributed to Sykes. Tiled floors by Minton, Hollins and Company were inserted, (fn. 196) and the walls were given 'polychrome decorations' by Sykes, since obliterated.
The New Refreshment Room
On the north side of the quadrangle internal decoration could proceed from 1866: a good deal survives although some is not accessible. On the ground floor an apsidal-ended Refreshment Room occupied the space (north of Room 14) under a new Lecture Theatre, and to east and west were a Grill Room and a Dining Room (north of Rooms 15 and 13): all still exist but have not been used for their original purpose since 1939.
The walls and columns of the Refreshment Room (Plate 16b), perhaps under the influence of the Prince Consort's Dairy at Frogmore of 1858–61, were faced with majolica executed by Minton, Hollins and Company, Maw and Company, and Gibbs and Canning. Much of the decoration derived from Sykes, who was working on the design of the room in the last months of his life, (fn. 197) and whose pictorial alphabet and other motifs were reproduced. Except for the tile pavement the whole of the decorative work was credited to Gamble. But Townroe claimed the design of two of the windows made by Powell and Sons (the modelled decoration over the side doors being also suggestive of him), and the motifs of the upper wall were possibly Moody's. (fn. 198) The room was opened in 1867, (fn. 199) when the decoration was still incomplete. The Building News in 1870 found the room 'bright and cheerful . . . It looks like one of the richly and gaily-adorned cafés of Paris'. (fn. 200) The decoration of the upper part of the room continued well into the seventies. (fn. 201) Millais participated in discussions of the colouring, which he would probably have preferred to be deeper. (fn. 202) In 1874–5 the plaster ceiling was replaced by the Enamelled Iron Company with one of sheet-iron enamelled in colours to a design by Gamble—a notion suggested to Cole by the metal advertisements on railway stations. (fn. 203) In this rich setting visitors ate at tables designed by Alfred Stevens (see page 90 note).
The Grill Room
For the decoration of the smaller flanking rooms, in quieter colours, other talents had been called in. Edward Poynter, recently successful at the Royal Academy, was invited in November 1865 to tender for the decoration of the Grill Room (Plate 15). (fn. 204) He, too, used glazed ceramics (predominantly blue in colour), painted by female students of the museum's porcelain class: some of the work was done in Minton, Campbell and Company's Art Studio in Gore Lane. He designed the windows (by Crace and Sons) and also the iron and brass grill (by Hart, Son and Peard) which The Building News thought showed 'the hands of a first rate Gothic architect rather than those of a painter'. (fn. 205) The decoration of the grill, particularly in the patterning of the applied brass, now seems, rather, to give a remarkable foretaste of the 1890's. The room was opened in 1867, but little if any of the wall-decoration was then visible, (fn. 206) and many of Poynter's designs are dated 1868–71, (fn. 207) Only three of the larger panels of the months and seasons were in place in May 1871, when The Graphic was nevertheless pleased by the 'thoroughly artistic' character of the decoration as well as the juiciness of the grills. (fn. 208) The room was not finished or some of the windows installed until c. 1873. (fn. 209) In 1974 it is intended to restore this room, and a Poynter window has been newly placed in the north wall.
The Green Dining Room
The Green Dining Room is exhibited as the Morris Room (Plate 16a). For here the Department,simultaneously with the invitation to Poynter, turned to Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company in the very early days of their career—before, in fact, their work at St. James's Palace, begun c. September 1866. (fn. 210) The museum had already in 1864 bought some stained glass from the firm. (fn. 211) Morris's estimate for the windows was dated September 1866 and that for the ceiling and panelled dado was accepted in October 1867. (fn. 212) The work was finished in 1868–9, except for Burne Jones's figure-panels in the dado, which were completed in 1869–70. (fn. 213) (His figure-panels were evidently painted or repainted by C. Fairfax Murray—at Morris's behest, according to Aymer Vallance. (fn. 214)) Apart from these, Burne Jones's figure-subjects in the windows, and the tile pavement made by another firm, the detailed decoration was the work of Philip Webb, although his plaster walling was not executed by Morris and Company. (fn. 215) The four hanging lights were designed much later by George Jack, though evidently in close adherence to a drawing by Philip Webb, and after manufacture by Osier and Faraday were installed in 1926. (fn. 216)
Originally the wooden panelling of the walls, as well as the plasterwork above, was coloured green instead of the present very dark brown. The Building News liked the repose and refinement of the colouring, although some found it depressing. (fn. 217) But, like the Grill Room, the Green Dining Room had a large glazed door on the south side, now superseded, and for that reason, and the slightly lighter panelling, was a little less dark than at present.
Compared with the windows of the main Refreshment Room, Burne Jones's here were thought to be 'as sweet music is to mere organgrinding' by The Athenaeum, which applauded the 'rich and original decorations'. (fn. 218) Burne Jones's accounts with Morris and Company include sums of £42 for six 'large designs' for 'Kensington' in 1866–7 and £35 for seven 'cartoons' for 'South Kensington' in 1868: presumably they refer to his work here. (fn. 219)
In c. 1875 the furnishings included a buffet probably designed by Gilbert Redgrave with panels painted on porcelain from a watercolour by H. Stacy Marks: this is now (1974) in the Grill Room. (fn. 220)
Mackail in 1899 cited the museum authorities for the material soundness of the work, which would seem not to have yielded the firm much, if any, profit. (fn. 221) The stained-glass technique employed in the windows was, however, imperfect: they were damaged by blast in 1940 and reinstated, with some repainting, in 1960. (fn. 222) (fn. 6)
The Ceramic Staircase and Gallery
Despite the Green Dining Room the museum was not diverted from its enthusiasm for ceramic ware. A conspicuous example survives in the staircase built in 1865 at the west end of this north range (Plate 17a, 17b). It was completely decorated by Moody, who was asked to give a design early in 1866, and was brought into use in 1868, when Leighton disliked the modelling. (fn. 225) The work, executed by students, was still in progress in 1877. (fn. 226) The lower walls are of enamelled terra-cotta, and the panels above the dado and the ceiling decorated with Colin Minton Campbell's vitrified ceramic painting, installed from 1871 onwards. (fn. 227) The description given below of the colouring of the former Ceramic Gallery is applicable here also. Moody's stained glass, made by Powell and Sons, (fn. 228) no longer survives. The memorial to Cole was put up in 1878 as a gift from a committee under the Duke of Westminster, although in 1874 Cole had been hoping the position of the portrait would be 'centre of Lecture Theatre outside'. It was designed by Moody in accordance with Cole's wish, and cost £323. Cole liked it: very characteristically he had brought in his daughter Florence to work on the mosaic portrait (which the Department's art director, Poynter, disliked), and apparently wrote the inscription himself. (fn. 229)
The Ceramic Staircase led to the Ceramic Gallery on the first floor (Rooms 65–69) which contained a striking piece of ornamental display of 1868–70, now removed (Plate 17c). When the Department thought it had a good column it was inclined to make the most of it, and here Gamble used a double row of columns very similar to those in the Refreshment Room. The ceiling painted in arabesques en grisaille was designed by Moody, and some motifs of Sykes's were used about the gallery. The tile pavement was made and designed by Minton, Hollins and Company. (fn. 230) Wild kept the background quiet by colouring the pilasters like the walls, and, as on the staircase, the colour effect was cooler than in the Refreshment Room, with celadon green, white, pale chocolate, and some gilding. (fn. 331) The windows (which survive in store) were painted c. 1869–70 with scenes illustrating the history of ceramics by William Bell Scott ('a poet as well as an artist'), in a yellow monochrome intended to 'resemble the old Nürnmberg woodcuts' and designed to give an appropriate light for display purposes: at night they were lit from outside. (fn. 232) The two staircase compartments leading to the Lecture Theatre had similar windows by Scott, which were in progress in 1869–70, and retain Moody's grisaille ceilings and the ironwork of the stairs and screen modelled (the last by Gamble) to a Sykes design in c. 1868 (Plate 20a). (fn. 233) (The Department bought copies of Pompeian wall and ceiling decorations in 1866, possibly in connexion with this work. (fn. 234)) Scott's pretty, naturalistic scheme for decorating the walls was abandoned in the economizing 1870's. (fn. 235)
The Lecture Theatre
The same fate attended the elaborate scheme worked out by Poynter for the interior of the Lecture Theatre. The theatre, for which some planning was in progress in 1864, had been opened in 1868. (fn. 236) Henry Scott is said to have been assisted in realizing the design by the engineer, J. W. Grover. (fn. 237) The restrained classical treatment of the interior did not attract much contemporary attention. Gamble claimed responsibility for the plaster detailing, (fn. 238) but D. S. MacColl attributed it to Townroe (probably on the strength of conversations with him), including 'a lovely bit of proportion and ornament', the tablets under the arcades (fig. 24). (fn. 239) The apse was vaulted in a semi-dome for decoration in mosaic, to he executed by students to a design by Poynter which he had begun by August 1867 and which was formally commissioned for 300 guineas in 1868. (fn. 240) The design for the work, which included a 'scheme of the Creation' among much else, is shown on a model of 1869 and was completed in 1875. (fn. 241) The only Poynter design executed, however, was the soffit of the arch, commissioned in 1870 for £60 and carried out by students in 1874–8; (fn. 242) but this, like the South Court lunettes, was realized in fresco, not mosaic. The traditional method of painting on wet plaster was employed. (fn. 243) In 1877 Poynter was proposing to take in hand the decoration of the coved ceiling in glass mosaic. (His price was £400 for the working drawings and £350 for the painted cartoon of each of the four sides. (fn. 244)) In 1879 Walter Crane was probably making designs, (fn. 245) but it seems that only the decoration of the soffit was visible in 1911. The museum's decorations were at that time out of favour and alterations then recently made, including the bricking-up of panels in the arcaded openings in the south wall, may have obliterated any other embellishment. These arcades had originally framed theatre-boxes, as did those in the side walls, which now contain ten cartoons for the mosaic figure-panels formerly in the South Court. (fn. 246)
New building, 1868–1873
By the later 1860's the growth of the ornamentalart collection, augmented by loans and gifts, and the wish to house such great didactic exhibits as Brucciani's cast of the Porta Delia Gloria at Compostella, increased the pressure for new building, (fn. 247) and the money made available in 1866 was used partly to extend the museum. These additions were on the east side, where it was natural for the Department to wish to replace the iron museum, but where a subsidiary motive was to prevent the Brompton Oratorians' acquiring a right to light. (fn. 248)
Late in 1867 the greater, northern, part of the iron museum was removed (and subsequently reerected at Bethnal Green as the interior of the museum there). (fn. 249) On the vacated site two bays and a corridor were added at the south end of the South Court in 1869–71 (Rooms 32, 33, and southern ends of 38, 38A and Restaurant). (fn. 250)
The Cast Courts
Southward of this again the tremendous Cast Courts were built slowly in 1868–73 at a cost of about £34,800 (foundations May 1868; 24 feet high June 1870; roofed-in by July 1872; opened July 1873: contractor, George Smith and Company). (fn. 251) They arc 83 feet high: Cole had at one time envisaged 120 feet. (fn. 252) The plan is basically similar to that of the South Courts—a pair of courts communicating laterally across a central corridor open on the ground floor (Plates 20b, 20c, 21). Presumably with regard to future expansion and the level of Cromwell Gardens, the floor was raised above that of the older buildings. A basement was introduced below, lit through 'glass mosaic panels' in the floor, designed by Moody and made by Powell and Sons. (fn. 253) The simply patterned skylights are of laminated wood, the gallery balustrades (designed by students under Moody) of terra-cotta and the supporting brackets of iron covered with plaster. (fn. 254) Translucent window-blinds were designed by Moody and executed by him and his assistants. (fn. 253) The colouring was by Townroe, (fn. 255) who painted the corridor columns white and chocolate with gold capitals, and in the Courts used 'olive-green and purple red'. (fn. 256) The marble mosaic pavement of the central corridor was laid (like others in the museum) by female convicts. It was designed by Moody, who thought this 'opus criminale', as Cole called it, admirable 'in solidity and gravity of effect'. (fn. 257) The impressive scale of the rooms was recognized at once. The Builder said the first sight of them was as unforgettable as that of Notre Dame, Mont Blanc—or the Great Exhibition building. (fn. 258) Millais thought the simplicity preferable to the ornateness of the rest of the museum. (fn. 259) The responsible architect was Scott, who may perhaps be given some credit for the boldness of the dimensions. But Wild was his assistant, and evidently the actual designer. In 1880, however, Cole noted a conversation with Scott which revealed that the latter 'had forgotten that J. Wild did the Architecture . . . and said it was Moody!' (fn. 260)
Plans and prospects 1869–1873
In 1869 Cole had been emphatic on the thoroughness and economy of the Department's design methods in his evidence to the Select Committee on Hungerford Bridge, and was telling Scott that the latter would become 'Government Architect with £2,500 a year'. (fn. 261) But the increasing control exercised by the Treasury over governmental departments was not to be withstood, and in the early summer of that year Cole suffered the 'agony' of a stop to the museum's building imposed by Lowe, Gladstone's Chancellor of the Exchequer. (fn. 262) An attempted vindication by the Department of its relative immunity from 'the ordinary rules governing the Public Service' (fn. 263) only aroused deeper suspicion at the Treasury. The amount that had actually been laid out on the museum buildings in 1860–70 was not very enormous—some £210,000 by the Department's reckoning (fn. 264)—but in October 1869 the Treasury demanded detailed information on the full extent of work proposed to complete the museum. Scott and his assistants prepared a plan and model, submitted to the Treasury early in 1870 (Plate 19a; fig. 3 on plan-sheet A in end pocket). (fn. 265) It was very different from Fowke's, and more economical of space, with taller and thicker buildings set more closely together: the decorative panels freely used on the exterior were probably designed by Townroe. (fn. 266) But the estimated cost of £463,000 was unacceptable to the Government, and all that happened was that in March 1870 the Department's buildings were, like those of other departments, put under the Office of Works. (fn. 267)
The effect of this on the designing of the museum's buildings was slight: it still originated in the Department and the Treasury accepted that where practicable decorative work should still be executed by students of the National Art Training School. (fn. 268) The Office of Works obtained an increased vote of funds, used to complete the Cast Courts (and the Huxley Building), and for a time in 1870 Cole was hopeful that the change might enable building-work to 'go on more quickly'. (fn. 269) In June 1871 Cole and Scott 'settled that all points of the buildings involving taste should be approved by Department before sending to Works'. (fn. 270) But with Gladstone as Prime Minister and Lowe at the Treasury, the prospects for large schemes of the Department were not good. (fn. 271) In the following month the Cabinet decided that neither the Select Committee of 1860 nor any subsequent pronouncements authorized the execution of a completion plan: Scott's design should be revised, and meanwhile no new building undertaken. (fn. 272) Cole decided to resign, stayed to face Treasury criticism of the Department's accounting, and finally went in May 1873. (fn. 273) (fn. 7)
For some months the Government actually considered putting the museum under the British Museum. (fn. 276) Cole appealed to the Prince of Wales who, he noted, promised to 'protect Kensington', but by the autumn Cole's public remarks about Lowe were getting him into trouble, and it was only with Disraeli's return to power in 1874 that he obtained his K.C.B. (fn. 277) He told the Prince of Wales's secretary, however, that he would in any case have thought it treachery to the Prince Consort's memory to accept the honour on Gladstone's recommendation. (fn. 278)
Buildings and projects 1873–c. 1886
Cole's departure in 1873 revealed that Scott was less favourable than his former chief to the employment of students on the building, which certainly had its disadvantages. In 1872 Moody had made a virtue of the increasing competence discernible in students' successive contributions to the Ceramic Staircase and Rooms 100–1, tacitly accepting that the earlier work on view was less than excellent. (fn. 279) Poynter as Art Director was more favourable than Scott to students' employment but in 1879 had to admit that their less frequent use in the later seventies had reduced the number competent to do the work. (fn. 280) Scott was also perhaps less wholly favourable than Cole to the Sykesian school of decoration, (fn. 281) and it is probably true that there was a tendency for the raciness of modelling derived from Stevens to become exaggerated in his later disciples: Cole himself had latterly had reservations about Townroe's inclination to caricature. (fn. 282) In 1869 Scott had wanted Gamble and Townroe to refresh their inspiration in Italy rather than continue to use Sykes's designs and in 1874 Gamble was for the time being dismissed: (fn. 283) Townroe, however, retained Scott's (unreciprocated) esteem as a decorative artist.
During 1874 Scott was preparing revised models for the completion of the museum at a cost of £500,000, encouraged by the decision of Disraeli's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Northcote, in July that it should be 'in a manner befitting its purpose and contents'. (fn. 284) This '£500,000' model, on which Townroe's decorative panels were again prominent, was admired by James Fergusson (Plate 19b; fig. 4 on plan-sheet A in end pocket). (fn. 285) Compared with the 1869–70 model it reduced the entrance courtyard still further, and perhaps inevitably Cole liked it less, thinking it 'barracklike', 'streetlike', and 'not monumental'. (fn. 286) The preparation of working drawings was authorized in August 1875, but early in 1876 the Government postponed the completion of the museum, and only a more limited scheme, to cost £80,000 over three or four years, was authorized in July 1876. (fn. 287) Economic and foreign difficulties diverted the Treasury's resources elsewhere, and it was not until the early summer of 1879 that work began. (fn. 288)
The Art Library range
A storey was added to the office range on the east side, (fn. 289) but the chief work was building the south side of the quadrangle (now Rooms 21A–25 on the ground floor), and Rooms 41 and 45 extending southward: the latter rooms at first housed the science and education library and antique casts respectively. In the ceiling of Rooms 22–24 girders are exposed between decorative panels. From Room 21A a staircase, later removed by Aston Webb, rose to the present Room 74A, and from Room 25 another rises to the large art library that fills the south side of the quadrangle on the first floor (and occupies the only considerable apartments in the museum to have north light, Plate 22a). The new buildings were constructed by Perry and Company of Stratford. (fn. 290) They were plain on the south side, and the decoration in the library and on the library staircase by Townroe was less rich than he had intended, although the Office of Works (which disliked his detailing) thought that Scott had allowed him too much freedom. (fn. 291) The front to the quadrangle, with mosaic figure-panels by Townroe, (fn. 292) copied the style established by Fowke and Sykes on the west and north sides, but with a cruder, more scarlet hue to the terra-cotta. The roof, furthermore, was only slated, not pantiled, and Cole on one of his last visits to the museum deplored 'evidence throughout of meanness'. (fn. 293) The work was finished by 1884 at a cost of some £65,000. (fn. 294)
The Department and the Office of Works
Gladstone had returned to power in 1880. His head of the Education Committee, A. J. Mundella, was sympathetic to 'South Kensington', but the First Commissioner of Works, G. J. Shaw-Lefevre, was hostile to the Department, and supported the strictures of the Office's principal surveyor, Sir John Taylor, on some features of Scott's library roof. (fn. 295) Shaw-Lefevre insisted on the Office's capability itself to complete the museum, and the independent architectural office at South Kensington was abolished in March 1882: (fn. 296) difficulties at the Natural History Museum may have strengthened Shaw-Lefevre's wish to control museum-building at that time. Scott died in the following year.
The designing of cases and bookshelves for the art library was given to Taylor. Regarding further work, Scott's completion plans were pronounced unsatisfactory by Shaw-Lefevre and Taylor, partly on the strange grounds that they were inharmonious with the admired Huxley Building designed by Scott's own office. (fn. 297) In 1883 Shaw-Lefevre succeeded in blocking a Parliamentary vote of funds for further building, authorized by the Treasury in 1882. (fn. 298) By 1885 some alternative sketch-plans had been prepared by Taylor, but these were perhaps not very seriously intended, and in 1885–6 the Treasury disallowed further expenditure, in favour of the Admiralty, War Office and General Post Office buildings. (fn. 299)
Some work continued to be executed by students of the National Art Training School in the eighties. For example, they decorated the ceiling and walls of the Refreshment Room corridor in 1885–6 to designs by Hugh Stannus (formerly one of Stevens's assistants): the estimated cost was £200 compared with the £1,150 at which Moody had tendered for the work in 1879. (fn. 300)
Underlying the reluctance to see large-scale building-work continue was undoubtedly a distrust felt in Whitehall of the South Kensington establishment. (fn. 301) Another cause, however, was uncertainty about the ultimate location of the various collections that had come to seem peripheral to the museum's successful role as, broadly, an 'art' collection.
The future of the collections
In its earliest days, as we have seen in the previous chapter, the range of subjects brought together for illustration in the iron museum was very wide. This had seemed admirable to polymaths like Whewell, even if the museum's 'cheerful appearance midway between the National Society's Repository and the Soho Bazaar' aroused the talent for ridicule of such as BeresfordHope. (fn. 302) Cole, in the spirit of Prince Albert (who had wanted a 'Museum of Arts' not art (fn. 303)), tried to hold to the concept of the museum as partly a trade or industrial collection. In 1860 he had been undismayed that one of the most popular sections was the food collection designed to instruct the public 'what it is cheapest and best for them to eat', and in his definition of the art collection's scope he had, at least when under Parliamentary interrogation, been very utilitarian in the 1851 tradition. He saw it as an aid to manufactures, 'especially ornamental art manufactures'. (fn. 304) The 'museum of construction' under Fowke was an active section, showing and testing manufacturers' products for the building industry in a manner anticipatory of twentieth-century developments. (fn. 305)
At the same time Cole kept alive from his radical past a broadly 'human' approach that worked against any over-nice limitation of the museum's scope. His departmental report of 1858 delighted in the evening openings, when 'the working man comes to the Kensington Museum accompanied by his wife and children. The looks of surprise and pleasure of the whole party when they first observe the brilliant lighting inside the Museum show what a new, acceptable and wholesome excitement this evening entertainment affords to all of them.' (fn. 306) Some surviving element of this tradition perhaps still contributes to the museum's positive attitude towards its public, although it led Cole himself to pronouncements that would not now be approved in a museum director. (fn. 8)
A strong influence, however, was exercised by J. C. Robinson, until 1863 the keeper of the ornamental art collection. He had a great contempt for the 'motley medley chaos' of the other collections and delighted that Cole's cautionary display of badly designed manufactures at Marlborough House had soon been 'discreetly dismantled'. (fn. 308) As we have seen, Robinson applied his skill as a connoisseur of late medieval and renaissance work, particularly Italian, to founding much of the museum's strength in that field. The acquisitions alike of connoisseur's pieces and modern paintings aided the opening of the museum's scope towards 'fine' art, and in 1863 Beresford-Hope suggested in the Quarterly Review that the museum should be recognized as 'the British Museum of post-classical art', becoming a collection illustrative of art history rather than directly instructive for art students: he suggested that it should be divorced from the schools of art, and ignored any role as an aid to manufacturers and industrial designers. (fn. 309) The future direction of the art collections was in fact dealt with by an important minute of the Education Committee at that time (June 1863). The collections were to be confined generally to post-classical art 'applied to some purpose of utility'. As a restraint upon the connoisseur's predilections of Robinson all periods and geographical regions were, within that limitation, to be represented adequately. (Robinson promptly resigned, to become until 1867 the museum's 'art referee'. (fn. 310)) Robinson's suggestion that the acquisition of modern objects should be suspended was rejected in 1865 (fn. 311) but some parts of the collections were 'weeded' of items suitable for distribution to local museums, (fn. 312) and in succeeding years certain sections of the old miscellany were removed to galleries west of Exhibition Road or further afield. (fn. 9)
The tendency of the museum in the later seventies alarmed Cole. He lacked nothing in enthusiasm for acquisitions of decorative art. (Indeed, in 1868, perhaps inspired by the commencement of the Cast Courts, he had actually thought of buying the Arena chapel in Padua for the museum. (fn. 316)) But by 1880 he was complaining that recent purchases contained 'an overabundance of Mediaeval Italian "Virgins and Childs"', and also that the old grouping of objects in the museum mainly by 'material and process' was being subordinated to display-requirements. Under Robinson's reviving influence much of the modern decorative art had been sent to Bethnal Green, and in Cole's opinion the function of 'teaching Art applied to Industry' was becoming subservient to the study of 'the Archaeological and "rare and curious'". (fn. 317) To the last the Department's collections at South Kensington were very varied (Plate 57), but from 1889 the exhibition of some, like the 'museum of construction' and the 'educational collection', was discontinued. (fn. 318)
As the collections east of Exhibition Road became more concentrated upon 'art' the refinement and development of the other collections into a 'science museum' engaged increasing attention, and in the 1880's the Treasury found reason for inaction in the deliberations of committees on the future of the scientific collections.
In 1886 the Department was still hoping for the execution of Scott's design. (fn. 319) But when in 1890 the congestion of the museum finally induced Lord Salisbury's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Goschen, to relieve it, he authorized a competition for an entirely new design.
The New Building
The eight architects invited to compete were chosen half by the Government and half by the Council of the Royal Institute of British Architects. The Government invited J. Macvicar Anderson, T. E. Collcutt, Sir Thomas Deane and Aston Webb: the Institute John Belcher, William Emerson, T. G. Jackson and Richard Norman Shaw. Anderson declined, and was replaced by Mervyn Macartney. Shaw also declined and was replaced first by Bodley and Garner and then, on their withdrawal, by William Young (whose inclusion had been urged by the Secretary of the Office of Works, the future Lord Rosebery, because he was a Scot). The Government would have invited Alfred Waterhouse to compete had he been willing to do so: instead, he was appointed professional assessor to advise the Prime Minister and the four other Ministers who were the judges. He was paid 420 guineas and each of the competitors 300 guineas. (fn. 320)
In the instructions to competitors (fn. 321) emphasis was laid on the need for perfect lighting and for the greatest possible wall-space. The recommended arrangement was to consist of top-lit courts surrounded by ground-floor galleries, side-lit from the courts and externally, and by one or two upper storeys of galleries, the topmost being sky-lit only. That is, the arrangement was to be basically what was established in the 1860's in the North and South Courts. The most direct access possible was to be afforded to the art library from the main entrance, which, it was suggested, should be in the centre of a recessed south front. No decorative paintings or mosaics were to be included.
In July 1891 the judges followed Waterhouse's advice in choosing the design that had been submitted by Aston Webb, who estimated its cost at £418,673 (Plate 23a; fig. 5 on plan-sheet A in end pocket). (fn. 322) The decision was well received by the architectural press.
The Huxley Building influenced Webb's composition and his choice of materials—buff terra-cotta, with red brick in the towers and pavilions. His towers were designed to group with those of the Imperial Institute and Waterhouse's own Natural History Museum. Webb considered with particular care the silhouette and massing in conjunction with the latter building, to which some of the elevational features were also tactfully related. (fn. 323)
Waterhouse awarded 'marks' to the competitors under eight different headings, the most important single consideration being 'excellence of plan'. Webb received 470 marks, including the maximum for planning, artistic treatment of detail and the abundant provision of wall-space. Belcher came next with 426 marks for 'a magnificent design, the most original of the eight'. Water-house thought his planning as good as, and his elevations better than, Webb's: in the other respects it was less good, particularly in its greater likely cost than any of the rival designs. Emerson received 364 marks for a well-lit, commodious design harmonizing with the old buildings, but confusingly planned, and Young 362 for a scheme presenting fine elevations at the expense of good lighting. Deane received 320 (commendably cheap, and harmonious with the old buildings, but defective in plan, detailing and the provision of wall-space and accommodation). Jackson received 317 marks for a cheap and commodious scheme but one that Waterhouse thought the worst planned of all. Collcutt's design (299 marks) was also commodious and quite cheap but badly lit. Waterhouse gave the fewest marks (277) to Macartney, whose design, with an elevation in the manner of Newgate Goal, was submitted under the motto 'English Tradition' and differed markedly from the others. His plan was 'dignified and finely conceived' but Waterhouse condemned the detailing, the insufficient wall-spaces, and above all a total lack of harmony with the existing buildings. (fn. 324)
Webb had not adhered very closely to the old arrangement of courts opening into surrounding ground-floor galleries, but Waterhouse considered that his main intercommunicating courts would constitute 'the most splendid suite of apartments for Exhibition purposes I know of anywhere'. Webb's straightforward placing of his staircases where they could be easily seen also won Water-house's approval. Waterhouse did not comment on the meagre provision of lifts for exhibits or on the paucity of storage space. Nor did he make any particular comment on the competitors' management of the site-levels: in his design Webb took the floor of the Cast Courts for his controlling level and kept this unbroken throughout his ground floor. Waterhouse commended Webb's towers and pavilions and his architectural detailing but criticized the main walls as too low for dignity. A problem that had confronted the competitors had been the contrivance of means to avoid or camouflage acute angles at the southern corners of the site. At the important south-west corner Webb had solved it by breaking the line of his Exhibition Road front. But Waterhouse thought the stepped frontage should be straightened on the line of the road. (fn. 325)
This last suggestion was evidently adopted at an early stage in the development of Webb's working drawings, with far-reaching effects on his design, for in November 1891 a revision of the plan had resulted in an 'oblique' relationship on plan between his western European Court and his Oriental Court, and by April 1892 (if not in November) it is clear that this was because he had reconciled an unbroken frontage to Exhibition Road with a right-angled corner by giving his Cromwell Gardens frontage the generally convex plan of the executed building. To mask the oblique internal juxtaposition Webb gave an apsidal end to his western European Court (also the eastern), and withstood the Department's objections to the inutility of these curved surfaces. (fn. 326) He evidently accepted, however, a change of mind by the Department which abolished one of the indispensable requisites of the competition and allowed the eastern of Scott's two recent staircases to be retained as the library staircase at the expense of Webb's intended main staircase. (fn. 327) In February 1892 the Treasury authorized the Office of Works to proceed on the assumption that Webb's modified design would be executed: (fn. 328) the total estimated cost was now £450,000. (fn. 329) In April an agreement was concluded between Webb and the Office of Works by which his fee was to be £21,000. (fn. 330) Preparatory to rebuilding, a large corrugated-iron structure was built in the museum quadrangle. (fn. 331) Then in August Gladstone's last administration took office, Shaw-Lefevre returned to the Office of Works, and in December the Treasury counter-manded all preparations for new or temporary buildings. (fn. 332)
Thus forty years after the foundation of the museum its main frontage southward was a homely mixture of the pre-nineteenth-century houses, Pennethorne's humble stock brick, some Office of Works huts, the dreadfully dilapidated remnant of the Boilers, and Scott's gaunt walls looming behind (Plates 20c, 22c). In front were lawns and leafage, and the focal point was less any one building than a great plane-tree.
The Conservatives returned, under Salisbury, in July 1895, but matters remained at a standstill until 1897. A Select Committee of the House of Commons was then appointed to investigate the Department's museums, and was renewed in the following year. Its conclusions were by no means kind to the Department's administration but it had few doubts about the need for new buildings, and very soon issued a short first report (May 1897) urgently recommending this. (fn. 333) In August the Treasury asked the Office of Works to make tentative plans. (fn. 334) By that stage the Department was considering the omission or reduction of Webb's towers and some ornamentation, to lessen the cost. (fn. 335) A more radical modification was, however, being considered by the Treasury, and held the field for a year. This was to place not only the new art-museum buildings but also the new laboratories needed for the Royal College of Science upon the site, south of the Huxley Building, which would have been duplicated. To find the necessary space another permanent building would have had to occupy the museum quadrangle and a storey be added to the new buildings. (fn. 336) As in 1885, when the Office of Works had propounded a similar scheme, the Department objected chiefly to this increased height. (fn. 337) Scientific opinion was also hostile to the proposal; so was the Select Committee, (fn. 338) and by the summer of 1898 the Treasury was accepting that the new building would be limited to the art collections. (fn. 339)
At that time the Prince of Wales and his elder sister, the Dowager German Empress, were taking an interest in the evolution of the design. 'I am still working away at the S. Kensington improvements' he wrote to her in May. Later he sent her the 1898 Select Committee report, and a rough sketch of the proposed plan. The Empress's interest in the museum went back to the days when she and her husband had been shown the first buildings of the quadrangle by Cole. She now sent a memorandum which her brother passed on to the museum authorities. She wanted the casts and copies separated from the 'original' objects, and probably suggested an arrangement of buildings like the new Bavarian Museum in Munich, with separate sections in styles appropriate to the contents. She and the Prince agreed (in April 1898) that the intended building was over-ornamented, which the Prince attributed to its being a competition design. (fn. 340)
By 1898 a revision of Webb's plan was in any event becoming desirable because of an approaching change in the administration of the museum. The Department was about to be absorbed into a new Board of Education in Whitehall (Act 1899, effective from 1900), and some of the site could therefore be diverted from office- to exhibition-use.
In these circumstances of impending administrative upheaval the directives to the architect were not likely to be completely clear and comprehensive, and The Times was later to complain that faults in the planning of the building as executed derived from the insufficient guidance given to Webb by the museum authorities in a period of distrubed administration. The failure to investigate officially the planning of Continental museums was particularly regretted. (fn. 341)
In fact, in the summer of 1898 Webb himself asked the Department to recommend modern Continental museums for his inspection, and in the latter part of 1898 he produced new sketch-plans for buildings to cost £500,000. (fn. 342) The general utilization of the site was now close to that finally realized: the tower had gone, replaced by a lantern. The entrance was more modest than it later became (although Webb wanted an axial approach to be formed through Thurloe Square). Internally, the plan gave an east-west axis through the central hall. The main stairs were paired, on each side of the entrance hall, and to replace his great staircase to the art library Webb was trying to achieve a long vista down a 'central avenue' which he proposed to continue across the old museum quadrangle. (fn. 343) A 'committee of architects' is mentioned as approving this bisection of the quadrangle in December 1898. One of its number, the President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, George Aitchison, changed his mind when the removal of the temporary building occupying the quadrangle reminded him that this was 'a fine architectural feature', and the project was dropped. (fn. 344)
In December the Queen approved the sketchplans, although the Dowager German Empress was still disappointed by the lack of 'grace and dignity' in the elevations and details, and condemned Webb's 'dish-cover domes' as 'bad in style'. (fn. 345) If there was any disquiet about the design in the Department it received no encouragement from their supreme chief, the Lord President of the Council, the Duke of Devonshire (about to become the first President of the Board of Education). He did not much care what the building looked like, provided it was big and commodious enough. (fn. 346) Early in 1899 the Treasury gave authority for work to proceed and the site was cleared. (fn. 347) The foundation-stone was laid in May by the Queen, who directed that the museum should henceforward bear its present name. (fn. 348) Aston Webb designed the wooden structure to house the ceremony. (fn. 349) A new agreement between him and the Office of Works was concluded by which his fee was to be £25,000 (as well as £10,000 for his Royal College of Science building in Imperial Institute Road). (fn. 350)
In the summer of 1900 the Board of Education decided to give the top storey of the new building to the Royal College of Art, and fresh plans and elevations by Webb were approved by the Office of Works in July. (They show the 'lantern' carried up into a spire or steeple.) The scheme was reversed in 1902–3. (fn. 351)
Externally the building was more-or-less completed in 1906. In June 1909 the Victoria and Albert Museum was officially opened by King Edward VII. It had cost about £597,500 plus some £15,000 for fittings and furniture. (fn. 10) (fn. 352)
The new work included one feature that is, for its date, noteworthy. The Sheepshanks Gallery and Vernon and Turner Galleries had formed the unfinished and discontinuous eastern side of the quadrangle. In 1901 this side was reconstructed, with a front of beautifully built brick and terra-cotta as an exact copy of the Fowke-Sykes facade opposite, though the terra-cotta is yellower in tone. An easternmost bay was also added to the north side, bearing a mosaic figure-panel in the old style by Diespeker and Company of Holborn Viaduct. (fn. 353) (fn. 11)
Otherwise, brick-and-stone replaced the terra-cotta-and-brick of the competition design. Leonard Stokes in 1893 had urged that for such a building terra-cotta was insufficiently dignified, but Webb explained its abandonment by the risk of delays in supply. (fn. 355)
In architectural expression the building was very different from the competition design of eighteen years earlier, less graceful and coherent, and less successful with the critics. The exterior was especially condemned, for its smallness of scale, and the forward protrusion of the south front (Plates 23b, 66d). (fn. 356) (Of the statues on this front—all carved in situ—one in particular roused The Gentlewoman to ridicule, that of 'our good Queen Alexandra wielding an enormous fan! Could bathos descend lower?' (fn. 357)) The interior was thought too monotonously white but Webb's contrivance of vistas was admired (Plates 24, 25). Despite the long genesis of the building its arrangement was not in the end found very suitable by the museum authorities (figs. 6, 7 on plan-sheet A in end pocket). Webb's entrance hall and central hall prevented direct communication along the front ranges on the first floor, and the complicated levels of his design as built have proved inconvenient, as has the meagre provision of lifts and of storage space. His adherence to the old grouping of the offices at the east end was also unsatisfactory and required some modification before the building was opened. More generally, the division of the building mainly into large courts required by the museum authorities in 1891, was by 1909 less in favour than the subdivision into smaller compartments preferred on the Continent. The new Director was Sir Cecil Harcourt-Smith, and he, like the very forceful Secretary of the Board of Education, Sir Robert Morant, was dissatisfied with some of the museum's old practices, and with the new building in so far as it (partly) expressed them. Webb's 'vistas' postulated the continued existence of great communicating apartments, and on the lower floors they have in fact been largely obliterated by later subdivisions introduced to allow a more sympathetic display of objects.
Harcourt-Smith's and Morant's views had expressed themselves through the important Rearrangement Committee appointed in 1908. (fn. 358) The Committee recognized and defined the dual role of the museum, serving both the industrial designer and the connoisseur or historian of art. In one respect, indeed, it reverted to Cole's doctrine (which had been reiterated by the old Department's officers to the Select Committees in 1897–8) that the primary division of objects should be by material rather than by countries of origin. But it was embarrassed by a museum plan that then seemed old-fashioned. Webb's Octagon Court (Room 40, now partly masked, and with a free-standing mezzanine inserted), which Morant called 'a monstrosity as part of a museum', gave (and still gives) particular difficulty by reason of its great size (Plate 25a), and the committee considered turning it into a library. In 1909 Webb received an offer from Frank Brangwyn to decorate one of the octagon's lunettes without payment, or all of them for £5,000. Webb thought this the best imaginable start 'for the decoration of the new building'. Harcourt-Smith, on the contrary, protested at Webb's assumption that a general scheme of decoration would be carried out: 'a museum like the Victoria and Albert. . . is apt to be confusing and wearisome to the visitor . . . we do not need to confuse and weary him further.' The Board therefore declined the offer, telling the Office of Works that Brangwyn's 'powerful decorative art' was unsuited to the museum's purposes. (fn. 359) The old doctrine that the building itself should be comparatively self-effacing was now in conformity with taste as well as acceptable in theory, and was therefore at last effective: Webb's interiors remained virtually undecorated.
Alterations since 1909
The Victorian embellishments of the old buildings were now generally detested by the museum authorities and between 1910 and 1914 a vigorous campaign for their removal had a partial success. The introduction of 'factory-light' ceilings necessitated changes in some of the first-floor galleries round the North Court, (fn. 360) but in Rooms 95–99 (then housing the Sheepshanks Collection) a reasoned defence of their style in 1911 by Paul Oppe, the deputy director, was for the time being effective. (fn. 12) (fn. 361) Admirers of Red-grave's decorative scheme in Rooms 100–101 experienced some anxiety but (again for the time being) only the ceiling was changed. (fn. 362) In the Refreshment Room corridor the ceiling paintings of 1885–6 were obliterated by 1913. (fn. 363) The chief attack, however, was made on the decoration of the Ceramic Staircase and Gallery. In 1910 the director declared his wish 'to remove bodily the whole of this disturbing and antiquated decoration'. (fn. 364) The staircase was in 1911 divested of its stained-glass windows and the upper walls were concealed: (fn. 365) Cole's memorial was intended to be removed and (reluctantly) given another location outside the library. In the gallery the majolica columns were 'most obtrusive and objectionable' and W. B. Scott's windows 'crude and amateurish': these and the tiled floor were to be removed. (fn. 366) An active opponent of these changes was Cole's son Alan, formerly assistant secretary of the museum, who had resented Morant's wish for the old personnel to be (in Cole's phrase) 'cleared out'. (fn. 367) He harnessed the current interest in Alfred Stevens on behalf of a public agitation to defend the work of his 'school' at the museum. D. S. MacColl protested at the attack on buildings that 'are full of interest, are in some parts bold and striking in design, and are rich and characteristic in their detail'. (fn. 368) Sir Aston Webb signed a protest. Other signatories of petitions were S. D. Adshead, John Belcher, T. G. Jackson, Edward Prior, Raymond Unwin and C. F. A. Voysey. (fn. 369) (The interest of the Refreshment and Grill Rooms, as well, of course, as the Green Dining Room, did not escape Muthesius in Berlin in 1911, (fn. 370)) Questions were asked in the House of Commons, and in 1912 a committee consisting of (Sir) Reginald Blomfield, Selwyn Image and Gerald Moira was appointed to advise the Board on the staircase and gallery (Webb was deliberately not included (fn. 371)). On its advice the staircase was left unaltered and unconcealed and some at least of the glass put back, but in 1913 the gallery was divested of its columns, for which others in fibrous plaster were substituted, the tiled floor was removed, and Scott's windows put in storage. The Sheffield School of Art asked to be given one of the superseded columns as an example of the decorative style of its alumnus, Sykes, but was told, not quite accurately, that their removal had necessitated destruction. (fn. 372) (fn. 13)
Subsequent changes have again removed the original windows from the Ceramic Staircase, and also from the North staircase, and the decoration of Rooms 100–101. The ceiling decoration and 'revised' columns of the Ceramic Gallery have also been removed, the former, at least, in the 1950's. (fn. 349) Since the 1939–45 war the exhibits have been rearranged in two distinct series, the Study Collections mainly on the upper floors, and the Primary Collections mainly on the lower floors, corresponding to the dual purpose of the museum defined in 1908. To alleviate the lack of storage- and service-space parts of the museum have been withdrawn from exhibition use. In the public galleries present display methods have required some concealment both of the decoration and of the architectural form of the building, although a sense of the fluctuations of taste has, since the war, permitted some of the 'outworn but important' Victorian features to survive behind a casing. (fn. 374) In 1957 new picture galleries were formed by building into the upper part of the North Court—the first addition to the museum's floor-space since 1909. (fn. 375) Where architectural detailing is still visible in the museum it has generally been subdued by painting in monotone, although in 1974 the exposure of some parts of the Victorian building was in prospect or preparation.