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Retired VMFA Curator Frederick R. Brandt Dies
Frederick R. Brandt. (1990 photo © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts)

RICHMOND, VA.-Retired Virginia Museum of Fine Arts curator Frederick R. Brandt died Wednesday, Dec. 12, at the age of 71. Mr. Brandt was instrumental in working with donors Sydney and Frances Lewis of Richmond to build what are now VMFA's world-class collections of Art Nouveau and Art Deco works.

From 1998 until earlier this year, Mr. Brandt had been VMFA's consulting curator of 20th-century decorative arts. Before his retirement in July 1996, he had been VMFA's curator of 20th-century art and head of the Department of Twentieth-Century Art since 1983. He was chairman of the collections division from 1994 to 1996.

"The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts would be a very different institution without Fred's scholarship, discerning curatorial vision and enthusiastic contributions to his field. His oversight and care of the Sydney and Frances Lewis collections of Art Nouveau and Art Deco decorative arts and the Lewis Modern and Contemporary collections is a lifetime achievement that will remain in two major collections for which this museum is known. Fred was among the museum's great curators. I am honored to have worked with him," said Alex Nyerges, VMFA's director.

Mr. Brandt began his career at the museum in 1960 as an assistant interpreter in the education department.

He spent his entire professional career at the museum, except for a two-year break to attend graduate school in the early 1960s and a period from 1980 to 1986 when he was the full-time private curator of the Sydney and Frances Lewis collections, director of the Sydney and Frances Lewis Foundation, and special projects coordinator for Best Products.

He was the author of the 1985 publication "Late 19th and Early 20th Century Decorative Arts," which documented the world-class Sydney and Frances Lewis Collection in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The book was published in connection with the opening of the Lewis Galleries in the museum's West Wing. Mr. Brandt supervised the installation of those galleries.

"Fred was meticulous and thorough and a wonderful friend," said Frances Lewis. "I will miss him terribly."

Among the major exhibitions he organized for the museum were "German Expressionist Art: The Ludwig and Rosy Fischer Collection" in 1987, "American Marine Painting" in 1976, "Picasso: Paintings and Prints" in 1974, "Löie Fuller: Magician of Light" in 1979, and "Celebrating Art Nouveau: The Kreuzer Collection" in 2002. The latter exhibition featured highlights of the 484-item Kreuzer Collection, acquired by the museum through a gift-purchase arrangement with Dr. and Mrs. Karl Kreuzer of Munich, Germany. Mr. Brandt worked closely with the Kreuzers in arranging the gift-purchase for VMFA.

In all, he was responsible in whole or in part for approximately 30 major exhibitions and published about 50 books, journals, articles and specialty papers on the fine and decorative arts of the 20th century. He lectured extensively on 20th-century art throughout the United States and served on many national and statewide committees and boards.

After his retirement, he continued to work as private curator of the Sydney and Frances Lewis collections. Both of the Lewises, founders of Best Products and long-time benefactors of the museum, served on the museum's board and collected 20th-century art. Frances Lewis still serves as a museum trustee. Sydney Lewis died in 1999.

In 2002, Mr. Brandt donated more than 350 pieces of printed primary materials relating to American and British Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau in memory of his late wife, Carol J. Brandt. This remarkable gift significantly increased the holdings of the library's Carol J. Brandt collection, established shortly after her death by a grant from Dr. and Mrs. William Regelson of Richmond, according to the museum's chief librarian, Suzanne Freeman.

Mr. Brandt was born in New Jersey, raised in Pennsylvania, and was a resident of Richmond for the past 44 years. Mr. Brandt earned bachelor's and master's degrees in art history from the Pennsylvania State University. In 1989, he received the Distinguished Alumni Award of the College of Arts from his alma mater.

"Collectors nationally and internationally, as well as dealers and curatorial and scholarly colleagues, widely admired Fred's knowledge, commitment and high standards. He will be greatly missed," said Dr. Joseph M. Dye III, VMFA's curatorial chair.

Mr. Brandt is survived by his son and daughter-in-law, Fritz and Judy Brandt; his daughter and son-in-law, Karen and Dave Siler; and by two grandchildren, Stefan Peter Brandt and Nicholas Owen Siler, all of Richmond. In addition, he is survived by his loving companion, Mary Louise Trache. A funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Monday, Dec. 17, at St. James's Episcopal Church in Richmond. Burial will follow at Hollywood Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Carol J. Brandt Fund of the Library of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

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