Secrets of the Museum The V&A open its doors to BBC cameras and Portrait Miniature restoration. By Ellie Smith

February 7, 2020

Scrupulous craftsmanship, meticulous conservation, painstaking research and a vast collection of truly remarkable objects.

This is the six-part BBC Two series which follows London's Victoria & Albert Museum’s numerous specialists’ teams - from archivists and conservators to curators - as they investigate, preserve and present the extraordinary objects which form the V&A’s collection.

Set to reveal the inner mechanisms at play in the V&A, the artworks and artefacts are presented centre stage. The first episode reveals the restoration of 120-year-old ‘Pumpie’ the toy elephant, research into the identity of an 18th century portrait miniature sitter, conservation of a Victorian paper ‘peep-show’ and the curation of the beautiful ‘Dior’ exhibition (2019). 

Director of programmes at Blast! Films, Alistair Pegg, was intent on celebrating the individual works of art within the collection; “In a way, the objects are the stars … they’re the focus and attention.”

If the objects hold the celebrity status, the skilled staff members may aptly befit the position of knowledgeable and dedicated entourage - the agents, managers, stylists and publicists of the heritage sector.

This is quite literally the case with Kylie Minogue’s dressing room; an unusual component of the museum’s collection which includes Kylie's entire wardrobe and replica of her dressing room from the 2006-2007 Showgirl: The Homecoming Tour, donated on long-term loan by the musician herself.

Whilst the breadth of the collection is evident through the wide variety of objects investigated, the depth of research is exemplified through the examination of an 18th century miniature. This included a survey of similarly rendered 18th Century aristocratic women, a visit to Ham House in Richmond and careful deconstruction of the miniature’s snuff-box case by the skilled conservator, Alan Derbyshire [see our past exhibition Charles Dickens: The Lost Portrait, a former project of Derbyshire's].

The Museum’s impressive collection of miniatures is of distinct interest to us, particularly at this present moment, whilst the V&A prepares for its explorative exhibition Renaissance Watercolours: from Dùˆrer to Van Dyck for which Philip Mould & Company are loaning an impressive and highly important work. We are delighted to be lending a portrait of Zaga Christ (c. 1608-1638) by the artist Giovanna Garzoni (1605-70).

Whilst the objects are, without a doubt, the stars of the show, we can’t help but admire and appreciate the vast team of skilled staff members who enable them to shine. Pegg reflects on the legacy of the museum and hopes that the documentary will celebrate the collection accordingly, “I feel that people will have a richer understanding of what the V&A does on our behalf […] it’s a national collection for our benefit, to preserve the depth of art and design on our behalf. There’s something quite touching about that — there’s all this work going on for us.”

Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, fittingly states: "Our aim at the V&A is to champion creative industry, inspire the next generation and enrich everyone's imagination.”

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500 Years of British Art