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World-class Art Nouveau, Art Deco Galleries will be On View in Expanded Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Next Year
This view is of the VMFA expansion from the Boulevard as it will appear at night. (Rendering © 2004 Rick Mather Architects)

RICHMOND, VA.- When the expanded Virginia Museum of Fine Arts galleries open May 1, one of the most significant public collections outside Paris of Art Nouveau and Art Deco decorative arts, spanning the years 1890-1935, will be on view.

Some objects from the collection never exhibited before at VMFA, along with newly acquired works, will be on display.

“The VMFA collection is rich in both its scope and its depth, featuring masterpieces by key designers,” says Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s director.

The museum’s Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Decorative Arts from 1890 to the Present, Barry Shifman, says collection highlights include:

One of the largest and finest collections of lamps by Tiffany Studios in a U.S. museum;

One of the largest collections of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany (American, 1848-1933) on view in a U.S. museum;

One of the largest collections of works by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (Scottish, 1868-1928 ) in a U.S. museum;

The finest collection of American and European Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau belt buckles and accessories – dating from about 1890 to 1910 – in a U.S. museum;

A very fine collection of American Arts and Crafts objects by artists such as Frank Lloyd Wright (American, 1867-1959), Greene and Greene Brothers (active 1894-1922), Gustav Stickley (American, 1858-1942) and Roycroft artists;

The largest collection of objects in a U.S. museum by Eileen Gray (Irish, 1879-1976), the great Art Deco (and Modernist) architect-designer working in Paris;

And one of the largest collections of objects in an American museum by the great Art Nouveau architect-designer Hector Guimard (French, 1867-1942).

The majority of the collection was amassed by Sydney and Frances Lewis of Richmond, the founders of Best Products Company, for their personal use between about 1970 and 1985.

During this same period, the museum acquired major Art Nouveau objects with funds donated by the Lewises, and the collection was enlarged through funds and gifts from other benefactors. The Lewises gave their collection and that of the Lewis Foundation to the museum in 1985.

Prior to the Lewis’s gift to VMFA, their paintings, sculptures and decorative arts were housed in their home on Monument Avenue. The home was designed by the well-known architect William Bottomley (1883-1951) and was built in 1926. The entire house was furnished in the finest examples of Art Nouveau and Art Deco objects and with important Modern and Contemporary works by Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923-1997), Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Franz Kline (American, 1910-1962), Chuck Close (American, born 1940) and other major artists of the period from the mid 1960s to 1985.

“When we re-open, the collection will be installed in a logical, clear fashion,” says Shifman. “Each gallery will be devoted to one country (with the exception of one that will focus on two countries) so that visitors may easily understand the accomplishments of artists, architects and designers in each country. We’ll be exhibiting our very finest objects, some which have not been shown before because of space limitations, as well as newly acquired objects.”

In past installations, space limited the display to nearly 350 Art Nouveau and Art Deco works, but the expanded galleries will allow the museum to display more than 420 works.

A large group of objects by Guimard, which tell the story of Parisian Art Nouveau, will be shown. The work of many artists will be represented in depth – among them Mackintosh, Archibald Knox (British, 1864-1933), Josef Hoffmann (Austrian, 1870-1956), Richard Riemerschmid (German, 1868-1957) and Gray.

The complete range of creativity by Tiffany will be represented by a wide selection of objects, including a leaded-glass window and lamps, hand-blown glass, ceramics, enamels, jewelry, wood and mosaics.

Among the most outstanding objects on view will be a circa-1899 cabinet by Guimard, made of pearwood, ash, bronze, mirrored glass and glass, for the apartment building Castel Béranger in Paris; an office suite (desk, file cabinets, arm- and side-chairs) made in 1909 from pearwood, mahogany, bronze, upholstery, glass and leather by Guimard; and a 1900 punch bowl with three ladles made of favrile glass, silver, gilding and copper by the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company (American–New York, 1892-1900) for Henry O. Havemeyer of New York and considered among the most important works created by the company.

Additional world-class objects will include a Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company “Peacock Lamp,” circa 1898-1900, made of favrile glass, enamel, brass and gilding for Charles Winthrop Gould (1849-1931), a prominent lawyer, art collector and trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; a Tiffany “Cobweb Lamp,” circa 1902-1910, designed by Clara Driscoll (American, 1861-1944) and made of leaded glass, bronze and mosaic-glass tiles; a “Canoe Sofa” from 1919-20 made of lacquered wood and silver leaf by Gray for Madame Mathieu Lévy, a talented Parisian fashion designer known as Suzanne Talbot; and a circa-1923 screen made of lacquered wood and aluminum by Gray, also for Madame Lévy.

VMFA’s new James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Wing is now sealed and protected from the elements, allowing interior work to proceed.

Key features of the $150-million expansion project:

Some 165,000 square feet will be added to the VMFA’s existing 380,000 square feet.

An atrium in the wing will be a triple-height “main street” connecting the new building with two existing wings and opening onto a new library, museum shop, café, and galleries. Its innovative glass roof will deliver natural light to this central area and surrounding spaces.

A 40-foot-high glass wall overlooking the Boulevard will signal the purpose of the museum from the outside by showcasing works of art and revealing public activity within.

A new entrance plaza facing eastward will create a new main entrance to the museum visible from the Boulevard.

A glass beacon, enclosing a stairwell on the north façade, will draw attention to the main entrance and glow softly at night.

The wing will provide greatly expanded gallery space for VMFA’s art collections and major exhibitions.

A new school-tour entrance from the plaza will accommodate more school groups and lead to children’s studios, resource rooms and a gallery.

At the heart of the museum’s campus, the E. Claiborne and Lora Robins Sculpture Garden will replace 3.5 acres of parking lot with a magnificent park including leisurely walkways, water features, flowers, and art.

The Robins Sculpture Garden will partially cover a new, highly innovative parking deck tucked beneath a terraced, landscaped slope designed for recreation and viewing outdoor performances. (The 600-car parking deck is now open)

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts | Art Deco | Louis Comfort Tiffany | Hector Guimard | Art Nouveau |

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