At the V&A last week I didn't really know what I wanted to see. This is a nice, indulgent state to be in. I am a member of the V&A, so I get in to all the exhibitions for free as part of my membership; and this means that I'll go and see exhibitions that I might not otherwise be tempted by. I found myself wandering onto the Bejewelled Treasures exhibition (on until 10 April), just because it caught my eye and I thought 'why not?'
It is a fairly small exhibition, filled with exquisite jewellery from one private collector, plus the loan of three items from the Queen. The pieces were incredibly beautiful, and the size of some of the gems was breathtaking, but I couldn't decide if I enjoyed the exhibition or not. It was very crowded, and to appreciate the jewellery properly you really need to get up close and peer at it for a few minutes. This meant that there was a great deal of standing around and chatting while people slowly manoeuvred themselves in front of a case. After five minutes of listening to two very loud women from Hampstead discussing the value of their engagement rings (“My dear! I could have sold the diamond one and paid for at least half the school fees!”), I put my headphones on, listened to some Flipside, and enjoyed myself a whole lot more.
I loved the paintings and the 19th century photographs of Indian rulers wearing their jewels, which were also a part of the exhibition and helped to give an idea of how dazzling an entire bejewelled outfit would have been. Also, pink sapphires! Who knew? Not me.
After all that sparkle and jostling I wants something a little more soothing, so I tried to work my way up to the 6th floor of the V&A where the ceramics collection is displayed. In all my many years of coming to the V&A, I don't think I've ever managed to do this (which to be fair is a logistical challenge as every staircase and lift in that building seems to go to a different floor). I finally came out of the correct lift and the scale of what I saw just took my breath away. They are not kidding when they say that “the V&A houses the greatest and most comprehensive collection of ceramics in the world”.
These pictures just show a tiny proportion of the collection. I wandered around for a couple of hours, entirely by myself (I think all the other visitors that day must have been in the Bejewelled Treasures exhibition, or had been defeated by the lifts). It was simply breathtaking.
When there is so much to see, I find that the best thing to do is to focus on a couple of things which catch my eye. I loved the teapots and teacups, but it was this delicate little eye bath (German, made in 1730) and the tiny blue and white scalloped dish (Japanese, date unknown) which I wanted to tuck into my pocket and bring home with me.
For a few minutes before I headed back home, I sat down to rest on a comfy padded leather bench, with the sunshine streaming through the window behind me and illuminating a whole case of giant Ming vases in front of me. And I thought once again, how very lucky I am to live where I do and be able to spend a cold Thursday morning in February looking at beautiful things from other lands and other eras.