RICHMOND, VA.-A spectacular array of notable English silver, 327 Japanese 20th-century woodblock prints, a painting by Richmond artist Murry DePillars, an oil painting by Japanese-American artist Bumpei Usui, and two wood sculptures by an African-American artist from Richmond have been added to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts collection.
The 16 English silver objects extend the chronological range of VMFA's Jerome and Rita Gans Collection and secures VMFA's position as a destination for the study and appreciation of English silver, says Alex Nyerges, the museum's director.
The new objects will join others already given to the museum by Mr. and Mrs. Gans in a new gallery opening Feb. 28. VMFA's Gans Collection is now one of the finest arrays of English silver in the world, Nyerges says, presenting "outstanding pieces by the greatest silversmiths of the 18th and 19th centuries, most notably Paul de Lamerie and Paul Storr, and the renowned silver retailer Robert Garrard."
The Gans Collection at VMFA, now numbering 103 pieces, was formed by Mr. and Mrs. Gans between the mid 1960s and the late 1990s. The New York couple lent it to the museum in 1988, and Mrs. Gans gave much of the collection to VMFA in 1996 following her husband's death.
Among works in the latest gift from Mrs. Gans are a massive basket marked by Storr (1771-1844) in 1813/14. It is 16-1/2 inches in diameter and bears the arms of George, the 3rd Earl of Egremont, who was an immensely wealthy patron of English painters J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), John Constable (1776-1837) and their contemporaries. The basket was one of a pair commissioned as part of a lavish dinner service from Rundell, Bridge and Rundell, London's leading silver retailer of the time.
Another magnificent object is a tureen, marked by de Lamerie (1688-1751) in 1736/7. It is encrusted with meticulously rendered crayfish, game and vegetables. The dense Rococo decoration reflects the then-popular French style. The tureen is 13-1/4 inches wide.
While composed predominately of English silver, the gift from Mrs. Gans also includes a rare teapot with chased ornamentation by Colonial American silversmith Myer Myers.
The 327 Japanese woodblock prints are in ink and color on paper and were executed by Kawase Hasui (1883-1957). Hasui is one of the finest representatives of the New Print movement, which revitalized traditional Japanese woodblock printing in the early years of the last century by introducing a new aesthetic vision that combined the best of Japanese and Western art.
"The level of craftsmanship for early 20th-century prints is in many ways superior to that of their predecessors," says Dr. Shawn Eichman, VMFA's E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Curator of East Asian Art.
"The prints given to the museum by collectors René Balcer and Carolyn Hsu-Balcer include 50 made before the great Tokyo earthquake of 1923, an indication of exceptional quality," Eichman says. The earthquake destroyed Hasui's home, his sketchbooks and the majority of his woodblocks.
During World War II, Hasui continued to create prints, even though his home was again destroyed in the Tokyo bombing of 1945. The newly acquired prints also include examples of the best of Hasui's post-war work, Eichman says.
René Balcer and Carolyn Hsu-Balcer live in New York. Carolyn Hsu-Balcer was raised in Richmond, where her parents, Y.K. and Cecilia Hsu, still live. René Balcer is best known as the creator of the television series "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" and as a producer of the Emmy Award-winning original "Law & Order" series.
The museum's new Murry DePillars painting is a 1997 acrylic on canvas titled "From the Mississippi Delta." It measures 42-1/2 by 32-1/2 inches and was a gift from VMFA's Friends of African and African-American Art.
DePillars (born 1938) is an artist-scholar of international renown who has lived in Richmond since 1971, according to Tosha Grantham, VMFA's assistant curator of Modern and Contemporary art. Born in Chicago, he has maternal roots in Gunnison in the Mississippi Delta.
"To address the violence prevalent in Mississippi and throughout the South, DePillars has embedded his composition with layers of symbolic and protective imagery. The central figure, a little girl, is waving goodbye to the unsafe place of her birth. The girl's white dress is a metaphor for the act of removing children from unsafe environments, particularly from Mississippi to Chicago where many families relocated to escape racial hostility," Grantham explains.
DePillars taught at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, where he was dean of the School of Arts for two decades before his retirement in 1996. He was an academic specialist for the United States Information Agency in 1985 and was the USIA's university affiliate in Zimbabwe in 1994. After he left VCU, he was executive vice president of Chicago State University for three years. His work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson.
"14th Street," 1924, is an oil on canvas by Bumpei Usui (American, born Japan, 1898-1994). It measures 30 by 24 inches. Usui's strongest work dates from this period and is characterized by a Precisionist style and urban subject matter. Dr. Joseph M. Dye III, VMFA's curatorial chair, says Usui's "striking urban scene" will "resonate on a number of levels" in the reinstallation of the American collection following completion of VMFA's expansion project.
"Moreover, in light of the current widespread interest in the 'globalization' of American art, figures such as Usui, a Japanese-American, present a compelling case study, expanding our knowledge of the many émigré artists working in American in the inter-war period."
The painting was purchased through VMFA's J. Harwood and Louise B. Cochrane Fund for American Art.
The two newly acquired poplar-wood sculptures by Richmond artist Leslie Garland Bolling (1898-1955) bring to VMFA "a full representation of the work of an outstanding artist who figures not only in the cultural history of the commonwealth but also nationally," says Dr. Elizabeth O'Leary, VMFA's associate curator of American art.
Bolling was the first black artist accorded an exhibition in Virginia when his one-man show opened in 1935 at the Richmond Academy of Arts, a forerunner of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. A modest, self-taught artist who carved his highly detailed figures with a pen knife, Bolling worked as a porter at a Richmond stationery company and produced his sculptures at night. With the support of New York's Harmon Foundation, his work was eventually displayed in 23 exhibitions in Richmond and other cities, including New York, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago.
His best known series was "The Days of the Week." VMFA acquired "Cousin-on-Friday," his figure of an African-American woman cleaning a floor, in 1944. Until the early years of this century, the whereabouts of less than a dozen Bolling sculptures was known. In preparation for its major retrospective of Bolling's work this year, the Library of Virginia managed to locate nearly 40. The two sculptures purchased by the museum were shown in the library's exhibition.
In "Saver of Soles," Bolling depicts an older man as he concentrates on repairing a shoe. "Bolling articulated the small details like the folds of the worker's leather apron, the laces of his own shoes and the staves of the bucket," and the sculpture retains evidence of the sculptor's knife, O'Leary says. "It readily evokes the determined entrepreneurship of artisans who kept shop in Richmond's Jackson Ward neighborhood," she says. The sculpture stands 11-1/2 inches tall and is dated 1941.
"Queen of Dreams," dated 1937, is one of a series of female nudes by Bolling. O'Leary calls them stylized, imaginative