5 Best Art Museums in Virginia


These treasure chests are captivating gallery-goers in Richmond, Norfolk, Roanoke and Williamsburg

From exquisite examples of Tiffany glass and American folk art to paintings by European masters like Rubens, Renoir and Picasso, some of the country’s top artistic treasures are found in Virginia. Provide your group with an uplifting and eye-opening experience in one or more of these five cultural powerhouses:

Virginia Art Museum, Richmond

One of the largest comprehensive art museums in the United States, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) has a collection that spans 6,000 years, from ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman pieces to contemporary American works. It is the only art museum in the country open 365 days a year with free general admission.

A suite of five galleries showcases the largest public collection of Russian decorative arts outside of Russia and includes an extraordinary group of five Imperial Fabergé Easter eggs created for the last two Russian tsars. Carefully decorated with precious stones and enamel, the egg-jewelry is one of the 200 objects in the museum attributed to the Fabergé firm. Inspired by the traditional Russian custom of giving decorated eggs at Easter, Tsar Alexander III commissioned the first imperial Easter egg in 1885 as a gift for his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna.

One of the largest comprehensive art museums in the United States, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts holds a collection that spans 6,000 years.

VMFA also has one of the finest collections of American art and the largest collection of Art Nouveau outside of Paris. Many are impressed by the life-size marble statue of Roman Emperor Caligula. Other treasures include British sports art, English silverware, French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings (Degas, Cézanne, Renoir) and renowned collections of South Asian, African and Himalayan art. The museum also houses a sculpture garden. with the neighbors Virginia Museum of history and culture, VMFA anchors Richmond’s Museum Quarter.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and The Dewitt Wallace Museum of Decorative Arts, Colonial Williamsburg

A recent 65,000 square foot expansion has enhanced the visitor experience in a building that houses two world-class museums. Beyond the new entrance and orientation area, a large hall provides access to the two museums, which now have more space to display their extensive collections.

Ms. Rockefeller, concerned with appreciating the art of the common man, began collecting American folk art in the 1920s and created a collection of some 400 pieces, which were eventually donated to Colonial Williamsburg. Since then, the collection has over 4,000 pieces dating from the 18th century to the present day. On display are paintings, pottery, sculptures, musical instruments, weather vanes and toys. There are carved wooden figureheads of ships, carousel animals, and advertising figurines that stood outside tobacco shops. The textile galleries feature quilts, fashions and costumes.

The Dewitt Wallace Museum of Decorative Arts houses a variety of “fine things”, including the world’s largest collection of Early Southern furniture and one of the greatest treasure troves of British ceramics outside of England. Guests also see more than 20 tall clocks, as well as exhibits of glassware, silverware, and jewelry. One of the best collections of Revolutionary-era weapons in the world includes muskets, swords and bayonets used by American, British, French and Hessian troops in the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars. The Making Music in Early America gallery features antique pianos and guitars made in England.

The Italian-style building of the Chrysler Museum on The Hague's entrance to the Elizabeth River makes a suitable repository for treasures.
The Italian-style building of the Chrysler Museum on The Hague’s entrance to the Elizabeth River makes a suitable repository for treasures.

Chrysler Museum, Norfolk

One of America’s most distinguished mid-size art museums, the Chrysler houses more than 30,000 artifacts spanning 5,000 years. The core of the collection comes from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the museum, which was originally known as the Norfolk Museum of Arts & Sciences. He was the son of the founder of the Chrysler Corporation, his wife Jean from Norfolk.

The majestic Italian-style building on The Hague’s entrance to the Elizabeth River makes a suitable repository for treasures. Exhibited in 50 galleries, diverse collections include pieces from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Asia, and Mesoamerica; paintings from the Italian Renaissance and Baroque eras; the decorative arts from the 12th century to the present day; an outstanding collection of Civil War photographs; and modern and contemporary art.

One of the most comprehensive glass collections in the country comprises more than 10,000 pieces, including major works by Emile Galle, René Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Lamps and large windows highlight the Tiffany collection. Artists at the state-of-the-art Perry Glass Studio, adjacent to the Chrysler, offer narrated glass-making demonstrations.

Paintings by Dutch and Flemish masters include works by Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, while those by 19th-century French painters like Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin and Pierre Auguste Renoir also delight gallery-goers. Among the other artists represented at the museum with free admission: Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

Taubman Art Museum, Roanoke

A 77-foot glass atrium dominates this impressive glass and steel structure, a cultural gem in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia. Its collection of 2,200 works ranges from 3,500-year-old Egyptian figurines to paintings and sculptures by contemporary Roanoke artists. General admission is free. The museum, a focal point of downtown Roanoke, is best known for its permanent collection of 19th- and 20th-century American art. These works are presented in turn in exhibitions at the Fralin Center for American Art, on the main gallery level on the second floor. Until September 24, 2023, the exhibition American Art 1850-1950 from the Taubman Permanent Collection will feature paintings by masters like Norman Rockwell, Childe Hassam, Thomas Hart Benton, Thomas Eakins and John Singer Sargent. Recent exhibits have highlighted jewelry worn by Hollywood celebrities in movies and on the red carpet, as well as costumes by Academy Award-winning designer Ruth E. Carter, who has worked on films like Black Panther, Coming 2 America and Selma.

By Randy Mink


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