RICHMOND, VA.-A complex sculpture by Sol LeWitt, one of the most important American artists of the Post-War period, and an oil painting by William D. Washington, famed throughout the South for his "Burial of Latane" Civil War painting, have been acquired by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
The museum's trustees also approved adding to the VMFA collection a work by Ceal Floyer, a Berlin-based Conceptual artist, and a bronze sculpture and its wax model by French artist Antoine-Louis Barye.
"The works approved by our trustees, which, taken together, are encyclopedic in nature, will add depth to our existing collection and increase our strength as an educational institution of the commonwealth of Virginia. At the same time they will provide surprising and visually exciting focal points for our many visitors from around the world," says VMFA Director Alex Nyerges.
VMFA's new Sol LeWitt sculpture is titled "Splotch #22" and was created in acrylic on fiberglass this year. It stands just more than 12 feet tall.
"Much of today's art practice would be unthinkable without LeWitt's pioneering work in Conceptual Art in the 1960s and 1970s," says John Ravenal, VMFA's Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.
"Our new sculpture is the largest and most complex of LeWitt's series of non-geometric sculptures. It is also LeWitt's last work."
LeWitt (American, 1928-2007) is often associated with straight lines and geometric forms, but he explored non-geometric forms from the beginning of his career. By 2000 he had begun a series of brightly colored, non-geometric sculptures that he called "splotches" in recognition of their eccentric contours and bright colors.
Ravenal says the artist made two drawings for "Splotch #22" on which he indicated colors and height. A fabricator then translated the drawings into 3-D using a computer. The result is a sculpture made of layers of industrial-grade foam that were laminated, carved and sanded before being coated with epoxy resin, fiberglass, and multiple layers of paint and varnish.
"Its dense aggregate of pointed spires suggest a Gothic fantasy of alpine peaks or an overactive stalagmite formation," Ravenal says.
The sculpture was purchased through the museum's Sydney and Frances Lewis Endowment Fund augmented by a gift from the artist and PaceWildenstein in honor of Frances Lewis and in memory of Sydney Lewis.
William De Hartburn Washington, who painted "The Burial of Latane" in Richmond in 1864, established the fine arts department at Virginia Military Institute in 1870. He died that same year at the age of 36. His body of work is thus quite small.
VMFA's new acquisition, "Lady Clara de Clare," is an oil on canvas measuring 24-3/8 by 19-3/8 inches and was painted around 1865. It was inspired by "Marmion," an 1808 epic poem by Sir Walter Scott. Washington, who was born in 1834 in Clarke County, depicts a scene in which Lady Clara takes refuge in a convent to escape the unwanted attention of the poem's title character.
"While the Gothic Revival subject matter may seem arcane for a Richmond-based painter, Scott's sentimental feudalism resonated in the South and helped define patrician identity and loss," says Dr. Sylvia Yount, VMFA's Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Curator of American Art.
Washington, who is said to be descended from Warner Washington, a cousin of the first U.S. president, was raised in Washington, D.C., and studied in the 1850s in Germany with Emmanuele Leutze, the artist who painted "Washington Crossing the Delaware." William D. Washington relocated to Richmond at the outbreak of the Civil War and established his reputation with "The Burial of Latane."
The iconic Lost Cause image honors Captain William Latane, the only casualty of General J.E.B. Stuart's 1862 defense of Richmond against the forces of Union General George B. McClellan. It was exhibited at the State Capitol in Richmond to raise funds for the war. Like "The Burial of Latane," "Lady Clara" was painted, and presumably exhibited, in war-torn Richmond, Yount says. VMFA's new acquisition, which comes from the estate of Edgar Moss of Richmond, was acquired through the museum's John Barton Payne Fund. The Moss estate is donating the proceeds of the sale to the Children's Hospital of Richmond.
"Ink on Paper" by Pakistani-born artist Ceal Floyer, who was trained in London and is now a Berlin resident, was created in an unusual fashion and builds on the foundation of 20th-century art initiated by Marcel Duchamp and developed later by Conceptual artists.
Floyer (born 1968) purchased a set of 40 colored pens and drained them of their ink by holding them point down in the center of separate sheets of paper. The order in which the colors appear in the resultant work follows the order in which the pens came out of the box. Curator Ravenal says the title of the work, which measures approximately 8 by 10-1/2 feet, is a pun that also emphasizes the creative process.
"Like her predecessors, Floyer uses everyday materials, seemingly casual presentations and elements of chance to engage issues of perception and viewer expectations," Ravenal says.
Floyer recently won the German National Prize for Young Art 2007.
"Ink on Paper," created this year, was given to the museum by Mary and Donald Shockey Jr. of Winchester.
"Seated Lion no. 2" by French artist Antoine-Louis Barye (1796-1875) is a bronze sculpture measuring approximately 6 by 8 inches. Accompanying the gift, which is from Mrs. Nelson L. St. Clair Jr. of Williamsburg, is the wax and plaster model from which it was made.
"For many years Mrs. St. Clair has been forming a superb and important collection of sculptures by Barye and other animalier artists," says Dr. Mitchell Merling, VMFA's Paul Mellon Curator and head of the Department of European Art.
"She has donated many examples to us, and it is her intention that her entire collection will eventually be given to VMFA, which would make the museum a destination for the study of 19th-century sculpture by Barye."
Merling says Barye's importance as a sculptor cannot be overemphasized. "He revolutionized the field with the idea that animals as subjects, which had previously been considered low on the scale of artistic value as compared to heroic figural sculpture, and the small-scale bronze were valid means of artistic expression.
"By his example and through his pupil Auguste Rodin he led the way to modern sculpture."
"Seated Lion no. 2" is related to a life-sized Barye seated lion that now stands outside the Louvre in Paris.
Merling says the museum is especially appreciative to receive the master model that accompanies the gift from Mrs. St. Clair. "Because of their fragility, it is rare to find wax-and-plaster models by Barye," he says.
The VMFA trustees also accepted the gift of "Till," a two-color 2002 etching and aquatint by Carrier Iverson (born 1972), a Richmond native who was raised in Prince Edward County. The print reflects on the Civil Rights era by way of the 1955 death of black teenager Emmett Till in Money, Miss. Till was said to have been murdered by whites because he spoke to a white woman outside a country store. Despite grand jury indictments and a trial, no one was convicted of the crime.
"Till" is a five-plate print that contains words taken from the murder trial and from the Bible, which are superimposed on imagery of skin, fishing nets and fish hooks. The print measures 15 by 22 inches and was given to VMFA by the Phyllis Stigliano Gallery of Brooklyn.
In addition, the trustees approved the museum director's purchase of four African textiles through the Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund. They are a man's kente cloth wrapper from the Akan culture of Ghana, made in the latter half of the 20th century; a man's kente cloth wrapper from the Ewe culture of Ghana and Togo, made in the 20th century; a man's wrapper made