Museum Review: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia


Virginia Museum of Fine Arts | Photograph by Bilyana Dimitrova

We like museums. In particular, I like museums with excellent Decorative Arts collections. This tends to not be what other people look at – I haven’t seen the Mona Lisa in my last half dozen visits to the Louvre, but always see the furniture, for example. Last year I did review some of the finer museums in Paris, but I’m way behind. We’ve seen a bunch since then (in Paris and elsewhere)! In an effort to potentially help out a Decorative Arts sort looking for a museum to visit, I will occasionally note ones that we’ve visited and liked, and what we liked about it.

I’m going to start with the local high point – the VMFA in Richmond. Its heart is several really substantial private collections that were donated to the Museum, which have been supplemented by acquisitions to round them out. It has some really odd stuff, but also some very fine and focused items.

Let’s start with the Faberge exhibit, just returned from a long circuit around the country and China. Lillian Thomas Pratt purchased these in the 1920’s and 30’s, buying them from dealers as they were smuggled out of the USSR. The workmanship is extraordinary. Five of the 52 made are in the collection. This is supplemented by a solid collection of enameled items made by Faberge that Russian royalty had owned. You can check out their Faberge items here.

Ruhlman corner cabinet | Virginia Museum of Fine Arts VMFA | Photo by Heller and Heller Furniutre

The Lewis collection of Art Nouveau and Art Deco objects is the main reason that we keep returning to the VMFA. The Art Nouveau jewelry, silverware, and furniture is really fine. The Art Deco furniture is also quite good, though I do not like how some of it is displayed. It is too far and dark in the display areas to really see the most intricate pieces. It’s fine if you just want to see it, but it’s not good if you really want to appreciate the details. By comparison, in the Musee des Arts Decoratif in Paris you could get close enough lick the pieces, though I don’t recommend it. Lesser museums treat furniture like its jewelry, rather than something made out of wood that was designed to be used. Enough whining, but don’t expect to see everything clearly, or bring binoculars.

Art Nouveau Furniture | Virginia Museum of Fine Arts VMFA | Photo by Heller and Heller Furniutre

There is also a good Arts and Crafts collection – mostly American but a few English and Secession pieces. Furniture, pottery, silver and some textile pieces, along with some Tiffany windows and lamps.

Decorative arts museum | Virginia Museum of Fine Arts VMFA | Photo by Heller and Heller Furniutre

You can see their general Decorative Arts into the American + European Design collection.

There is a very small collection of fine 18th century American furniture, as well, though I couldn’t find a reference to it in the VFMA website.

It also has a very nice restaurant overlooking the grounds, and has had some interesting travelling exhibits since we’ve been visiting. It’s a great place to visit if you have a couple of hours free while in the Richmond area, and is worth a trip if you like Art Nouveau.

Just a quick reminder – there’s still time to sign up for Dave’s veneering course at Waterford coming up April 1-2 if you’re interested! Get more detail about the course here.

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Heller & Heller

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Serving Virginia & Beyond