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VMFA selects Dr. Sylvain Cordier as Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art
Dr. Sylvain Cordier, VMFA’s Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art, Photo by Elcayer.

RICHMOND, VA.- Following an extensive, international search, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announced the appointment of Dr. Sylvain Cordier to the position of Paul Mellon Curator and the Head of the Department of European Art. Cordier will begin his position on Nov. 4. He comes to VMFA from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where he served as the Curator of Early Decorative Arts and the Napoleonic Collection since 2013. During his time at the MMFA, Cordier curated two critically acclaimed exhibitions that traveled internationally, including presentations at VMFA: Napoleon: Power and Splendor (2018) and Rodin: Evolution of a Genius (2015). Napoleon Power and Splendor was widely praised for its profound contribution to 19th-century scholarship and the thematic presentation of Napoleon’s Imperial household.

“Sylvain Cordier is an outstanding curator and scholar of European art,” says VMFA Director Alex Nyerges. “His previous collaborations with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts have already established him as a member of the team; now he will join us officially as a marvelous addition to an award-winning group of curators. I am confident that we have found the best candidate to lead the Department of European Art.”

Cordier's high standing in the museum field was recognized in June 2018, when the online journal Artsy named him one of 20 museum curators taking a cutting-edge approach to art history. As Cordier explained to the Artsy editor: "I belong to a generation of curators of European art that have to rethink the traditional codes of display and interpretation in order to reflect the diversity of the public and inspire greater understanding."

“We are absolutely thrilled to have Sylvain Cordier join VMFA as the new Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the European Art Department,” says VMFA Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education Michael Taylor. “Through his engaging and thought provoking exhibitions, Sylvain has demonstrated a deep commitment to curatorial excellence and the visitor experience. He brings with him an international network of contacts in the museum field, as well as a keen eye for rare and exceptional objects. We can’t wait to see the acquisitions that he will make at VMFA!”

The first major project for Cordier will be the reinstallation of the Mellon French Impressionist and British Sporting Art collections in their newly refurbished galleries, which will re-open to the public in October 2020. The esteemed Mellon collections have been travelling nationally and internationally since 2017, creating opportunities for people around the world to view the incredible works donated by Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon. The Mellon collection encompasses works by American, British, and French artists, including Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Thomas Eakins, Paul Gauguin, Winslow Homer, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, George Stubbs, and Vincent van Gogh, among others.

“Throughout each of the wonderful opportunities I have had to collaborate with VMFA, I have been constantly impressed by the extraordinary talent and admirable spirit of teamwork demonstrated by the museum’s staff under the visionary leadership of Alex Nyerges and Michael Taylor,” says Cordier. “I am very eager to join the curatorial team during this truly exciting time when we will revisit the display of European art to better reflect the values and interests of the contemporary museum public. Because it is a state-funded museum that belongs to all Virginians, VMFA’s visitors bring with them a multitude of perspectives and access information in a variety of ways. Owing to this diversity of visitor experience, I feel that museum curators today are responsible for displaying works from the past in ways that communicate their continued relevance. The name of Mellon has a unique resonance in the history of art museums and cultural institutions, which speaks of the role that European culture has played in fashioning the taste for art in America. I am sincerely honored by my appointment and by the opportunity to oversee this first-class collection.”

Born and raised in France, Cordier received his doctorate in art history from Université Paris-Sorbonne in 2009. Prior to moving to Montreal for his position as the Curator of Early Decorative Arts and the Napoleonic Collection at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Cordier worked as curatorial assistant and assistant curator at the Musée Gustave Moreau, the chateau of Versailles, and the Mobilier National in Paris. As a doctorant, he lectured at the Sorbonne University, teaching French painting in the 19th century and the history of decorative arts. He then joined the Metropolitan Museum as a Jane and Morgan Whitney fellow in the Department of Drawings and Prints and the Getty Research Institute as a post-doctoral fellow.

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