Located in Richmond, Virginia, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is a public art museum that is ranked as one of the top 10 most comprehensive art museums in America. Housing over 35,000 works, the museum is also home to a theater, a full-scale restaurant, and a 4-acre sculpture garden.
The museum's roots trace back to 1919, when Judge John Barton Payne, a wealthy Virginia citizen, donated 50 works from his personal collection to the state. Over the next decade and a half, additional donations from private collections, as well as financial donations, were made toward the opening of a public art museum. Federal funding was secured in 1932, and on January 16, 1936, the museum was opened. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the museum continued to receive donations, adding to its collections. From 1948 to 1968, museum director Leslie Cheek Jr. brought significant expansions to the museum and its impact on the state of Virginia. These changes included a sizeable expansion, including the addition of a new wing and a theater, a large increase to the number of permanent works, and an art trailer program bringing the museum's art to the surrounding communities.
In 1976, a third addition to the museum was completed, giving the museum its sculpture garden. Another expansion was completed in 1985, and in 1999 a new building, the Pauley Center, was added to the museum complex. In 2010, the museum's largest-ever expansion was completed, featuring the addition of a third wing with a large glass atrium connecting it to the original wings, as well as changes to the sculpture garden and the expansion of public parking. These 2010 expansions won the museum a 2011 RIBA International Award.
Although the museum accepts private donations for artwork and operation, it is owned and managed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, one of the first museums in the region to be state-operated. Along with the Virginia Historical Society, it serves as an anchor attraction for the city's Museum District.
The VMFA is divided into three wings, featuring an impressive collection of international art. Its permanent collections span thousands of years of human history, with ancient works dating back over four millennia.
The museum's African collection is regarded as one of the most inclusive African exhibits in the country, featuring works spanning from ancient Africa to the modern day. The continent's works and artifacts, including a preserved mummy, are also featured in the Ancient Art collection, which includes works from the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine empires.
Asian works are divided into two collections, an East Asian Collection focusing on the broad cultural emphasis of East Asian religions and customs with works spanning over 4,000 years, and a South Asian Collection, centered on a Mughal garden pavilion from Rajasthan, India, which includes one of the largest collections of Himalayan art in America. The European Collection houses works dating back to the medieval period and also includes pieces from legendary artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.
The Ancient American Art collection focuses on the art and culture of the indigenous peoples of North and South America. A large collection of American art features works from Payne's original donation alongside newly acquired pieces that emphasize the voices of women and artists of color. A collection of mid-to-late 20th-century art is focused on American works from 1950 to 1980 and European art from the 1980s, highlighting works by Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, and Willem de Kooning. Contemporary exhibitions include a large collection of art nouveau and art deco pieces, featuring works by Emile Galle, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Frank Lloyd Wright, and a growing collection of 21st-century art.
In addition to its international galleries, the museum also houses three specialized permanent object collections. The English silver collection showcases 18th and 19th-century silver from the most accomplished silversmiths of the time period. The Pratt Fabergé collection, home to over 400 eggs, is the largest collection of its kind outside of Russia. A rare books collection features over 3,000 multidisciplinary art books and manuscripts.
Performances and Programming
Since 1955, the VMFA has been home to the 500-seat Leslie Cheek Theater. Until 2002, the theater hosted its own theater company, the Virginia Museum Theater, later known as Theater Virginia. Throughout its four-decade run, the company staged eight world-premiere works, including an internationally broadcasted premiere of Maxim Gorky's Our Father, along with a variety of popular musicals and dramatic works. The theater was closed for a decade before reopening in 2011 as a touring venue for local and international theater, dance, and film. It is the host for the annual VCU Southern Film Festival, a 3-day event exploring portrayals of the American South on screen.
The museum's educational programming seeks to inspire young artists and make collections and art appreciation accessible for the Richmond community. Since 1940, a Fine Arts Fellowship program has awarded more than $5 million in grants to local artists and art students. A range of educational programs are hosted in the museum's Art Education Center, Pauley Center, and Studio School, including painting, drawing, photography, and digital arts courses for students from 3 months to 17 years. Guided tours are also offered, including school tours designed to meet state educational standards. A digital outreach program, known as ARTshare, aims to expand the museum's audience online.
200 N Boulevard, Richmond, VA 23220, Phone: 804-340-1400