This lecture launches a new book on the Victoria and Albert Museum devoted to the Victorian and Edwardian private collectors whose generous long loans and donations proved almost overwhelming. From its origins as a national art school study collection formed to promote the reform of contemporary commercial product design, the V&A rapidly became a mirror of Britain as a nation of collectors. In the museum’s early decades its curators were far outnumbered by private lenders, donors, agents, and dealers, many with greater expertise in their specialist fields of collecting. Through the influence of fascinating but formidable personalities, from Lady Charlotte Schreiber to J. Pierpont Morgan, the V&A nearly lost its way. As a collection of collections this treasure house seemed to have strayed from its founding purpose as a resource for design reform and so attracted controversy. This lecture, and the book, explains how and why the debate continues today.

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Julius Bryant is keeper emeritus of the V&A. As Keeper of Word and Image (2005–21), he was responsible for V&A collections of paintings, photographs, prints, drawings, designs, architecture, the National Art Library, and the Archive of Art and Design. A frequent visitor to Bard Graduate Center, he was the V&A’s lead curator for exhibitions organized with BGC on James “Athenian” Stuart (2006–07) William Kent (2013–14), and John Lockwood Kipling (2017–18). Most recently he contributed to the BGC exhibition and catalogue, Majolica Mania: Transatlantic Pottery in England and the United States, 1850–1915. Dr Bryant describes some of these adventures in his chapter for the book BGC at 25 (2019) entitled “Co-curating with Susan Weber.”

Lee Anderson, who worked for a time as an arts education teacher, has been referred to as the godfather of the Gothic revival in America. It is largely because of his impressive personal collection that the style has been rekindled among designers and other tastemakers. Lee passed away in 2010, but he left a legacy of philanthropic support through the Lee B. Anderson Memorial Foundation, whose mission is to support programs and organizations that advance an appreciation for the decorative arts.

Special thanks to the V&A Americas Foundation for their ongoing partnership.

Enriching the V&A: A Collection of Collections (1862–1914) is published by Lund Humphries in association with V&A publishing. It was made possible by the generosity of the Dr. Lee MacCormick Edwards Charitable Foundation.