The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, or VMFA, is an art museum in Richmond, Virginia, in the United States, which opened in 1936. The museum is owned and operated by the Commonwealth of Virginia, while private donations, endowments, and funds are used for the support of specific programs and all acquisition of artwork, as well as additional general support. Admission itself is free (except for special exhibits). It is one of the first museums in the American South to be operated by state funds.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has its origins in a 1919 donation of 50 paintings to the Commonwealth of Virginia by Judge and prominent Virginian John Barton Payne. Payne, in collaboration with Virginia Governor John Garland Pollard and the Federal Works Projects Administration, secured federal funding to augment state funding for the museum in 1932. Eventually, a site was chosen on Richmond's Boulevard. The site was toward The Corner of a contiguous six-block tract of land which was then being used as an American Civil War veterans' home, with additional services for their wives and daughters (the state having earlier acquired title in exchange for helping to subsidize the operations).
The main building was designed by Peebles and Ferguson Architects of Norfolk, and has been alternately described as Georgian Revival and English Renaissance, deliberately taking cues from Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren. Construction began in 1934. Two wings were originally planned, yet only the central portion was actually built. The museum opened on January 16, 1936.
Expansion and acquisitions
In 1947, the VMFA was given the Lillian Thomas Pratt Collection of some 150 jeweled objects by Peter Carl Fabergé and other Russian workshops, including the largest public collection of Fabergé eggs outside of Russia. The Museum also received in 1947 the "T. Catesby Jones Collection of Modern Art". Further donations in the 1950s came from Adolph D. Williams and Wilkins C. Williams and from Arthur and Margaret Glasgow, in particular, the museum's oldest funds used for art acquisitions.
Leslie Cheek Jr., whose father built Cheekwood, became director of the museum in 1948. His tenure was noted as having had a significant impact on the course of the institution; his obituary in the New York Times noted that he "transformed [the VMFA] from a small local gallery to a nationally known cultural center."
The second addition, the South Wing, was designed by Baskervill & Son Architects of Richmond and completed in 1970. It featured four new permanent galleries and a large gallery for loan exhibitions, as well as a new library, photography lab, art storage rooms and staff offices. A gift of funds from Sydney and Frances Lewis of Richmond in 1971, provided for the acquisition of Art Nouveau objects and furniture.
In 1976, a third addition, the North Wing, was completed. Designed by Hardwicke Associates, Inc., Architects, of Richmond. Adjacent to this was built a sculpture garden with a cascading fountain by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. The wing served as the new main entrance for the museum, with a separate dedicated entrance for the theater. It also added three more gallery areas – two for temporary exhibitions and one for the Lewis Family's Art Nouveau Collection, as well as a members' dining room, gift shop, and other visitor functions. However, the curved walls of its "kidney-shaped" design proved to be functionally awkward and impractical, a factor in its later replacement. Eventually, the 1976 wing and sculpture garden were demolished to make room for the 2010 McGlothlin Wing.
By the 1990s, the functions of the Confederate Home for Women had ceased, and its last residents moved out. In 1999, the Center for Education and Outreach (now the Pauley Center), housing the museum's Office of Statewide Partnerships, opened in the former women's home. Eventually, the remainder of the veterans camp property was transferred between state agencies to the museum, allowing it create a unified plan (begun in 2001) for what now totaled 13 1/2 acres of land in an otherwise built-out residential part of the city. In 1993, the Commonwealth of Virginia transferred the care of the Robinson House from the Department of General Services to VMFA.
In addition to the galleries that display selections of the permanent collection, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts presents special exhibitions of artwork drawn from its own and others' collections, as well as work of active artists. In 1941, the museum presented an exhibition of Modernist works by artists of the School of Paris from the collection of Walter P. Chrysler Jr (which later became the basis for the Chrysler Museum Of Art).
In the 1950s, VMFA originated shows such as "Furniture of the Old South" (1952), "Design of Scandinavia" (1954) and "Masterpieces of Chinese Art" (1955). In the 1960s, there were "Masterpieces of American Silver", followed by "Painting in England, 1700–1850," which drew heavily from the private collections of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon and was at that time the most comprehensive exhibition of British painting ever presented in the United States. In 1967, the museum also mounted a major exhibition of the work of the English social satirist William Hogarth.