October 21 – December 31, 2021 @ Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
RICHMOND, VA—The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announces the return of the Mellon Collection. After traveling nationally and internationally for four years while the Mellon Galleries were being renovated, the beloved collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, Sporting art and Jean Schlumberger jewelry, gifted by Paul and Rachel Lambert Mellon to the museum, will be displayed once again at VMFA in Richmond beginning Oct. 21.
“The renowned collection of European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts generously given to VMFA by Paul and Rachel Lambert Mellon are an essential part of the museum’s identity,” said Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s Director and CEO. “These collections are among VMFA’s greatest treasures, and we are excited to welcome visitors to rediscover these incredible works of art.”
The Mellon Galleries, located on the second and third floors of the museum’s West Wing, have been renovated and air-handling systems updated to ensure the best possible long-term environment for displaying these collections. The galleries have been completely redesigned and refreshed with a dynamic new presentation conceived by Dr. Sylvain Cordier, VMFA’s Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art.
Highlights of the Mellon Collection, including paintings, sculpture, and works on paper by Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau and Vincent van Gogh, resonate against walls of carefully-selected complementary hues. Visitors to the new second-floor Mellon Galleries will now find these remarkable works organized by school and style including Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Nabis and Symbolism.
“Arranging the works this way allows viewers to see the artistic progression and innovations over time,” said Cordier. The evolution of French painting from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century is evident in the space of seven galleries where visitors will see how artists began working with greater immediacy and employing saturated color, some embedding their paintings with symbolism. “The works also present and contextualize social attitudes of the time and allow viewers to see them differently, reframing the overall narrative,” added Cordier.
Paintings and sculpture by Edgar Degas reveal his views on women and femininity, for example. His seemingly charming subjects, such as the ballet dancer in Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, model ca. 1880, cast in 1922, belie the objectification and obscurity many girls and women endured in the late 19th century.
Beyond the galleries of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works on the second floor, visitors will find the largest and most comprehensive public collection of magnificent jewelry and bejeweled art objects by the celebrated French designer Jean Schlumberger, who worked for Tiffany & Co. in New York. Rachel Lambert Mellon donated this exquisite collection to the museum, beginning in 1985.
Among the ornate and intricate works are Jasmine, ca. 1966, a stunning collar necklace featuring delicate star-shaped blossoms and flower buds suspended from a golden vine intertwined with diamond ribbons supporting sixteen colored sapphires and tapering to an elaborate floral clasp; and Flower Pot (French: Pot de fleurs), 1960, a brilliant objet d'art evoking a potted sunflower resplendent with amethyst, emeralds, diamonds, black garnet ore, terracotta, and 18-, 20- and 22-karat gold.
The third floor Mellon Galleries feature Paul Mellon’s spirited collection of British, European and American Sporting art focusing on equestrian subjects with masterpieces of the genre by George Stubbs, Sir Francis Grant, John Frederick Herring, Benjamin Marshall, George Morland and Edgar Degas.
The equine works also document social class and race, which are important and inescapable subtexts of these works. Juxtaposed among the jaunty paintings of fox hunts and horse races are paintings of the enslaved men who groomed, trained and raced the animals. VMFA’s exploration of the role of enslaved people in Sporting art reflects the museum’s intent to tell the complete story of this collection. Horses were also a vehicle to freedom. A Ride for Liberty — The Fugitive Slaves, March 2, 1862, a powerful painting by Eastman Johnson, depicts a Black family escaping enslavement on horseback, an actual event that the artist witnessed and documented during the Civil War.
“The newly installed Mellon Collection reflects VMFA’s profound commitment to representing and serving all of its diverse communities,” said Dr. Michael Taylor, Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education. “The museum’s strategic plan emphasis on EDIA has inspired all of the museum’s curators to address issues of equity, diversity, inclusivity, accessibility, and racial and social justice in their collections and Sylvain Cordier’s groundbreaking re-installation of the Mellon Collection transforms our understanding and appreciation of these works of art.”
“When giving these significant collections to VMFA, it was the intent of Mr. and Mrs. Mellon to make great works of art accessible to a broad range of audiences,” added Cordier. “It is my hope that, in addition to being exceptional and compelling, these works of art remain relevant and provide insight to all who view them.”
Admission to the Mellon Galleries is free. To learn more about the Mellon Collection and the motivations and principles that guided Cordier in this ambitious reconceptualization of the collection’s display see www.VMFA.museum.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is the only art museum in the United States open 365 days a year with free general admission. For additional information, telephone 804.340.1400 or visit www.VMFA.museum.