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VMFA Acquires Painting by First African-American Artist to Win Acclaim
"Moonlight Marine," 1885, is an oil on canvas by Edward Mitchell Bannister (1828-1901). It measures 22 by 30 inches. Photo: Katherine Wetzel. ©Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

RICHMOND, VA.- The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has acquired a painting by Edward Mitchell Bannister (1828-1901), the first black artist to receive widespread acclaim in the United States.

The 1885 painting, “Moonlight Marine,” is an oil on canvas. Dr. Sylvia Yount, VMFA’s Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Curator of American Art, calls it “an exceptional example of the painter’s bolder, mature style.”

Painting and the sea form the twin poles of Bannister’s life, Yount says. In his younger days, he focused on pastoral landscapes, but his later marine subjects – views of the Atlantic and the Rhode Island coastline – demonstrate a more experimental vision and a dramatic touch. He was a native of St. Andrews, a small Canadian seaport. Barred from formal training by his race, he nevertheless pursued a painting career and subsequently became one of the earliest members of the Rhode Island School of Design faculty.

The Bannister work measures 22 by 30 inches and was acquired through VMFA’s J. Harwood and Louise B. Cochrane Fund for American Art.

Here is a summary of additional works acquired recently by VMFA.

“Head of a Black Man,” circa 1898, is by John Quincy Adams Ward (1830-1910), one of America’s foremost 19th-century sculptors. It is executed in bronze and measures 4-7/8 by 3-5/8 inches. It was acquired through VMFA’s A. Paul Funkhouser Fund. Dr. Elizabeth O’Leary, VMFA’s associate curator of American art, says the bas-relief profile “embodies the vision and skill of the nation’s first sculptor to embrace a naturalistic approach to figurative representation.”

“Seasonal Flowers,” dated 1923, is a set of four hanging scrolls in ink and color on paper by Chinese artist Kong Xuan (1873-1926). Each illustrates flowers and plants in containers and represents one of the four seasons. Each scroll is 97 by 27 inches. Li Jian, VMFA’s E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of East Asian Art, says Kong’s art symbolizes “harmony between nature and mankind.” They were purchased through the VMFA director’s discretionary fund.

“Black Tea Bowl” is an Edo-period work attributed to Japanese artist Raku Sonyu (1664-1716). An example of Raku ware, it is glazed in black and is 3-3/8 inches high and 4-5/8 inches in diameter. It is the first Japanese tea bowl to enter the VMFA collection and reflects the aesthetic style of early Raku ceramics, which were influenced by Zen Buddhism. It was purchased through the VMFA director’s discretionary fund.

“The Wounded Poacher (The Veteran),” 1878, is an oil on canvas by William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). It measures 24 by 18-3/4 inches. Yount says the painting is a “consummate example” of Chase’s Munich period – he studied at the Munich Royal Academy after training in New York – that marked his debut in the New York art world of 1878. It was given to VMFA by James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin of Bristol, Va.

Seven ancient gold rings and nine pairs of gold earrings dating from the 9th century B.C. to the 5th century A.D. “broaden and deepen VMFA’s collection of ancient art,” says Dr. Peter Schertz, VMFA’s Jack and Mary Ann Frable Curator of Ancient Art. The jewelry, along with an ancient fitting for a horse’s harness made of bronze with gold leaf and measuring 3-5/8 inches long, was the gift of an anonymous donor. Schertz calls the harness fitting “the most intriguing object from the gift” and notes that it has also been proposed that the work might be a cheek piece from a Roman helmet.

“Pheasant,” circa 1845, is a wax and plaster sculpture by French artist Antoine-Louis Barye (1796-1875). It was a gift from Mrs. Nelson L. St. Clair Jr. of Williamsburg, Va., and is the third version of “Pheasant” she has given VMFA. Previous “Pheasant” gifts were a master model, a lifetime atelier cast and a posthumous Barbedienne foundry cast. Dr. Mitchell Merling, VMFA’s Paul Mellon Curator and head of the department of European art, says VMFA is fortunate that St. Clair’s gifts allow the museum “to fully document the working process of this influential sculptor.”

Two exterior ornaments from Chicago’s 1884 Scoville Building by the architects Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) and Dankmar Adler (1844-1900) were given to VMFA by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Curator Yount says the terra-cotta motifs represent Sullivan’s finest early design work. One stands 29 inches tall and the other is 18-1/4 inches tall.

“The Lost Seven Hunters in Semi-Circle Jungle,” 1973, is by artist Twins Seven Seven, the name adopted by Taiwo Olaniyi Wyewale-Toyeje Oyelale Osuntoki. He was born in 1944 in Nigeria and now lives in Philadelphia. The work is executed in ink and wash or watercolor on linen and measures 38 by 63-5/8 inches. It was given to the museum by Sandra Ferebee of Norfolk, Va. VMFA’s African art curator, Richard Woodward, says Twins Seven Seven’s works are “usually intense personal variations on Yoruba tales and myth and often incorporate elements of his own life story. It is the first painting to be added to the museum’s African collection.

“Beach Dog,” 2003, is a C-print photograph by Richmond artist Anne Savedge (born 1947). It measures 28-1/2 by 38 inches. It is from the artist’s “Water” series of works featuring images of people in public fountains and at the beach. Savedge has taught at VMFA’s Studio School and received a VMFA professional Fellowship Award in 2001. John Ravenal, VMFA’s Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, says the photograph, which was given to the museum by the artist, represents her experimentation with digital manipulation.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts | Edward Mitchell Bannister | Dr. Sylvia Yount | Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane |

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