Among the significant acquisitions accepted by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
board of trustees on June 17 are a painting of a Pueblo Indian by a leading member of the Taos Society, an Egyptian mummy portrait mask, a South Asian shield of steel, gold and silver, and a Japanese Noh mask.
Walter Ufers vibrant On the Rio Grande marks the first work by a member of the famed Taos Society of Artists to be acquired for VMFAs collection. As the leading exponents of figurative painting in early 20th-century America, the Taos Society was founded in 1915 and disbanded in 1927, the year this work was painted. Ufer joined the group in 1917, specializing in portraits of Pueblo Indians and vivid landscapes fluidly painted in a high-key palette with impastoed brushwork. On the Rio Grande melds Ufers sensitive portrayal of a native figure with a lushly rendered New Mexico setting in all its remarkable colors and textures. The artist, a strong supporter of individual freedoms and a devout Socialist (he was a close friend of Leon Trotsky), was deeply concerned with the plight of the Pueblo Indians and what he viewed as their centuries-long oppression intended to eradicate their racial and cultural identities. This emphasis on native race pride gained Ufer a contemporary reputation for work that was considered the most sympathetic collective portrait of Native Americans to date.
Mummy Portrait Mask of a Woman
This wonderfully evocative face is not a true portrait but a generic image of a beautiful, fashionably coifed young woman. The sculpted plaster head has glass eyes and added pigment and was originally attached to a mummy board placed over the deceased. Such masks had been used in Egyptian burials since the First Intermediate Period (ca. 2000 BC), but the hairstyle dates this example to the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117 138 AD), when Egypt was part of the Roman Empire. The mask is an important addition to VMFAs distinguished collection of Egyptian art, which already includes a mummy mask from the Ptolemaic period (323 30 BC). This mask soon will be displayed in the museums Hellenistic gallery, where it joins other works of art that explore the complex interactions between local traditions (such as burial customs) and Graeco-Roman artistic conventions.
North Indian Koftgari Shield
A mesmerizingly ornate Indian shield enhances the arms and armor holdings of VMFAs world-class South Asian collection. The shields convex blued-steel surface shimmers with filigree-like arabesque patterning inlaid in gold and silver in a technique called koftgari, similar to damascene in the West. Further animating the shields face are four gold-inlaid snakes, intertwined in a knotted pattern around hemispherical bosses, and a plaque that combines solar, lunar, and floral motifs. A large and stunning example of the Indo-Persian shield called a dhal, similar to the Western buckler; it was probably produced in the 19th century in northern Indias Punjab region. Before coming to Richmond, it was in Torrisdale Castle, Argyll, Scotland, likely brought there either by its builder Major General Keith MacAlister of the Madras Cavalry, or by its subsequent owner Peter Hall, founding partner of the British India Steam Navigation Company.
Japanese Noh Mask
This Noh mask, known as Chujo, is characterized by realistic facial features, an open mouth, furrowed eyebrows, and a restrained yet powerful expression. Carved from a single piece of wood, the mask is coated with a layer of gesso and painted in ink and color for detail. Noh, a form of performance that developed in the 14th century and became more popular in the 17th century, combined dancing, music, and poetry. On the stage, male actors wearing masks played both male and female roles. All the Noh masks are designated for particular characters. The Chujo mask is believed to be modeled after Ariwara no Narihira (825-880), a well-known poet in the Heian period (794-1185) and a middle-ranking captain, Chujo in Japanese, in the imperial court.