The paintings collection was an original part of the South Kensington Museum, later re-named the Victoria and Albert Museum.
In 1857 John Sheepshanks gave the Museum around 233 modern British oil paintings to found a 'National Gallery of British Art'. This included major works by Turner and Constable, and substantial groups of pictures by many leading Victorian artists. Other important gifts and bequests followed and there are now over 2,500 paintings in the collection. These range from medieval altarpieces and old master paintings to the works of Delacroix and Degas, and the principal collection of pictures by John Constable in existence. Major works include Botticelli’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’ and Rossetti’s ‘The Daydream’, both bequeathed by Constantine Ionides in 1901.
Most paintings are in the Word and Image Department. Others may be found in other departments. The Furniture collection includes painted furniture and panelling, and other pictures form part of sculptural altarpieces. The Museum of Childhood has paintings of children, and the Theatre Collection over 100 theatrical subjects. Full-scale copies of Buddhist murals are in the Asian Department, as are nineteenth-century paintings illustrating life in India and western-style portraits, Iranian court paintings and works by contemporary Indian artists.
After the foundation of the Tate Gallery in 1897, the V&A confined its acquisition of oil paintings to works related to the applied arts and design. The V&A initially collected and displayed oil paintings to tell the story of British art and provide exemplary material for designers: it still does so to elucidate the history of art and design from the Middle Ages to the present.
The Public Catalogue Foundation collected information about paintings from the V&A in February 2008. The most up-to-date information is available from the Museum's Search the Collections website, and any changes will be reflected on the Your Paintings in due course.