I never did do that Dulwich post that I promised an eternity ago. Sorry. But here’s a handful of pictures that I think actually say much more than any words that I could ever write.
Captions to follow.
Years and years ago, I was an intern at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). It was one of the best internships experiences that I’ve ever had, and it gave me a chance to really familiarize myself with their holdings. Wonderful art aside, the actual galleries and exhibition spaces were slightly less than impressive. I have memories of dark rooms, low ceilings, and the fact that the library wasn’t accessible to the normal visitor (if my memory serves me correctly, if you were an outside researcher, you had to either talk to a librarian on the phone or make an appointment to come in).
That has all changed.
Long story short, about three years ago (at least) TPTB decided to transform the museum into a space that could be considered to be one of the top museums in the United States. They did a gigantic expansion + renovation program which resulted in a sparkly new building placed on the site of the older extension, which was (and now is) attached to the older, original building with its classical facade. The new bit also included tacking on a sculpture garden along a gorgeously manicured slope and a glass-windowed cafe (a HUGE improvement on the former one, which I believe was in completely windowless). And, hooray, the library is now super sparkly and completely accessible to the casual visitor!
(Photo: Not me.)
Sadly, I didn’t photograph the outside or any of the other new additions with my camera (not really sure why not at the moment), but I did take some shots of the galleries, in particular the American art gallery. I felt totally at ease walking through the different rooms, mainly because they displayed the right combination of dec arts and paintings and the labels were incredibly informative. Maybe there could have been more Copley, Stuart, and West, but lack of eighteenth-century portraits aside, I think that they did a good job.
John Singleton Copley, Mrs. Isaac Royall (1767-9, and 1777-78). This painting, though not one of Copley’s best, was cool because he had painted over/altered her sleeve ruffles and jewels a few years after the original completion date. They had a picture of the x-ray on the label. So informative!
A small drop-front secretaire made in India for the British market (c. 1780), but bought in India by an American merchant on his way to China. It’s made from sandalwood, but veneered with incised ivory and black lac.
Stiff colonial art! Oh, so stiff. But the furniture is lovely. Furniture makers must not have been as ostracized as painters were.
More still colonial people, children this time, who are again upstaged by the furniture surrounding them in the display. Believe me, I’m not complaining.
Neoclassicism has found its way to the colonies! Remember that Grecian couch from the MFA in Boston that I posted not too long ago? This is its not-as-stunning-but-still-nice cousin (1815-25, probably made in Philly). I believe they were built at around the same time, but definitely not by the same maker.
Interesting tapestries from eighteenth-century France. The subject matter was designed by Coypel (!) for Louis XV (I think, don’t quote me on that) and woven at the celebrated Gobelins manufactory. They’re scenes from Don Quixote and I believe that there are five in total. I love how they differ so greatly from other tapestries that you see from this time, i.e. the border is SO much thicker and embellished, making the main subject seem almost (if not totally) secondary. It’s more of a wall painting than a tapestry.
The Bruges Master, Madonna and Child Surrounded by Saints, 1499. I loved this piece; its colors are so much more vibrant in real life. Too bad not more is known about the artist.
They have a silver gallery!!! It’s a couple of rooms at least, but I sadly was rushing to get through everything at that point so I had to push on, but it seems like a great installation of American and European silver (lots of XVIIIº c. stuff), with explanatory didactic panels, and everything. V. impressed.
This lovely lady is part of a pendant pair by Gerard ter Borch (c. 1640). He’s just a spectacular, if not more intricate, but I just love the expression on her face. They’re both painted on copper and quite small (considering) so the details are that much sharper, yet fluid.
Alfred Stevens, Woman in the Studio, 1862-65. I’ve always loved Belgian artists Alfred Stevens’s ladies, even though the late nineteenth century is not really a period that I usually say that I like. They’re always so carefully rendered, and their costume is always the focal point of the canvas, the current painting being no exception. The paisley shawl is absolutely stunning, makes me wonder when those came to be a popular accessory.
There is of course so much more to see at this museum (Paul Mellon’s collection of British sporting art, for one, as well as lots of antiquities, Fabergé eggs, and mod-con selections), so if you have a chance, go and experience their collection for yourself. Plus, it’s FREE to get in! Doesn’t get any better than that, folks.