Secrets of the Museum – 20 September 2021 – 20/9/2021 – BBC Four

Series 1 Episode 3 of 6 – Inside every museum is a hidden world, and now, cameras have been allowed behind the scenes at the world-famous Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Only a small part of the two million wonders in the collection are on display to the public. But in this new series we go behind closed doors to explore all the treasures of art, design and performance the museum has to offer. We follow experts and conservators at work in this treasure trove of the nation’s favourite objects, as they breathe new life into fragile marvels, uncover hidden stories, and battle to keep the past alive. This week, we join curators Steph and Jenny as they plan a major new exhibition celebrating the work of innovative British fashion designer Mary Quant. They want to illustrate how the designer shook up women’s fashion in the 1960s with clothing that liberated women from decades of corsetry. Although the museum has a big archive of Quant dresses already, Steph has a critical gap in the collection. After an appeal to the public, a woman from Yorkshire comes forward with a dress that could be perfect to show how off exactly how Quant hiked hemlines higher than ever before. Jenny Fenwick was 17 years old when she bought her mustard-coloured Mary Quant mini-dress from the Sheffield branch of Topshop. But after years of hard partying, the dress will need all the love and skill that conservator Frances can muster in order to make it exhibition-ready. When the Quant exhibition opens, Jenny arrives to see her dress in pride of place – and is moved to think that these dresses meant freedom for her, and a whole generation of women. Meanwhile, curator Julius is delving deep into the stores to uncover some of the very first objects ever given to the museum. He tracks down a hand-painted writing case, made in Kashmir in the 1850s, that once belonged to Queen Victoria, who donated it to the museum. We’ll see inside the beautiful handmade piece, including the original knife and scissors the Queen used to cut and sharpen her quill pens. The writing case will join a spectacular serving dish, or salver, made from fine silver and gold filigree, in a special display to mark 200 years since Victoria and Albert were born. The museum also receives donations today, just as it did when it first started. A woman from west London, Shalaleh, has offered the V&A her treasured family collection of rare saris, dating back to the 1930s. Shalaleh’s grandmother was part of the Indian aristocracy in the days of the Raj, and travelled to Paris in order to buy fabrics from the top fashion houses of the day for her saris. These beautiful chiffons and silks are a welcome addition to curator Divia’s collection. With no daughters to give the saris to, Shalaleh knows her grandmother would be delighted to see the saris join the museum for the public to enjoy. But modern-day objects are just as important as historic items to the museum’s collection. We’ll see Rapid Response curator Corinna hit the streets as she gather the most significant designs of today – that could become the treasures of tomorrow. The team have are hoping to acquire the flags and logo of climate change activists Extinction Rebellion. When they join the collection, these contemporary pieces will sit alongside other emblems of social change now – such as an umbrella from the Hong Kong protest movement, and a burqini. We’ll also follow conservators as they prepare for the return of a huge Victorian masterpiece to the galleries. ‘The Pilgrim Outside the Garden of Idleness’, by renowned Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones, is from 1898. But the heavy and extremely valuable artwork is in its delicate original frame and calls for careful conservation to preserve the fragile gilt construction. For 100 years the museum has kept the painting safe, but it’s now down to tech services Allen and a team specialists to manhandle the artwork up several flights of stairs to its original place on the gallery wall.

About Secrets of the Museum

Secrets Of The Museum invites viewers into the hidden world of the Victoria and Albert Museum, going behind the scenes at the world-famous home of art, design and performance.

This show is broadcast on BBC Two, also known as the British Broadcasting Corporation.

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