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American treasures on view at Willoughby-Baylor House
George Caleb Bingham (American, 1811–1879), Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1856–71.

NORFOLK, VA.- The Chrysler Museum of Art has closed its doors as of January 1, 2013 for a major building expansion and renovation. The Museum will reopen to the public in April 2014. In the meantime, the Chrysler Museum Roadshow takes our art and experiences into galleries, museums, universities, and other community venues throughout the Hampton Roads region in 2013.

The Chrysler Museum Glass Studio remains open, as do its two Historic Houses, the Moses Myers House and the Willoughby-Baylor house in Norfolk. Exhibitions and programs will be scheduled at the Historic Houses in 2013 as well.

First among these is American Treasures at the Willoughby-Baylor House, on view at 601 East Freemason Street, Norfolk, through November 2013. The exhibition showcases some of the favorites from the Chrysler’s American art collection. More than 50 of our best American paintings and sculptures are on view on both floors of this restored 1794 home.

“The Chrysler’s American art collection is one of the nation’s finest, a favorite among visitors and a cornerstone of our programs for families and schoolchildren,” said Director Bill Hennessey. “In planning for the Museum’s closure and renovation, we knew it was essential to continue to display and share these masterpieces.”

American Treasures presents more than two centuries of iconic works, including paintings by John Singleton Copley, Albert Bierstadt, Susan Watkins, and Winslow Homer. Each room of the Willoughby-Baylor House will offer a cross-section of the collection organized around one of seven themes, including “At Home with Art,” “Picturing Power and Leadership,” and “Colors of the Coast.” These groupings cross boundaries of time and style to create thoughtful juxtapositions. For example, the section “Light and Landscape” pairs Albert Bierstadt’s precise and detailed 1886 view of Minnehaha Falls with John Henry Twachtman’s October, a 1901 jewel of American Impressionism in which the soft pastel colors of the Connecticut countryside emerge through a hazy veil.

Other themes include “Objects and Observation,” tracing the history of still life painting from folk art to Cubism; “American Beauties,” a selection of paintings and sculptures depicting women, many created by female artists; and “Mixing Colors,” exploring the presence of African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and other immigrants in this nation’s culture, history, and art. These groupings incorporate several recent acquisitions and works from storage, including objects never before on display.

“Many of these paintings were originally created for display in the home,” said Brock Curator of American Art Alex Mann. “This will be a more intimate viewing experience, very different than the grand galleries of the Chrysler Museum. I’m excited to return these works of art to a domestic setting and see how that will transform and enhance our understanding.”

The Willoughby-Baylor House and nearby Moses Myers House, both operated by the Chrysler Museum, are among the few surviving 18th-century structures in the Historic Freemason District, once one of Norfolk’s most elegant neighborhoods. After falling into neglect, the Willoughby-Baylor House was saved and restored in the 1960s. Since 2005 it has been home to the Norfolk History Museum, featuring changing exhibits of art, artifacts, and stories from the city’s rich and colorful past.

Many works within American Treasures illustrate Tidewater Virginia’s long tradition of art making, continuing the mission of the Willoughby-Baylor House as a center for the study of Norfolk’s history. These include sculptures by local master Alexander Galt (1827–1863) and painted views of the Elizabeth River. Other works highlight the regional commitment to art collecting which led to the creation of the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences, the forebear of today’s Chrysler Museum. Foremost among these is Lilies, Lanterns, and Sunshine, an masterpiece in the impressionist tradition by Helen Turner, painted in 1923 and donated in 1927, a valuable early gift to the not-yet-built museum.

Outside the exhibition, the colonial-style gardens of the Willoughby-Baylor House are open to the public, offering an unexpected retreat in the shadow of MacArthur Center shopping mall.

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