RICHMOND, VA.-A 1922 American Modernist painting by Max Weber, a triple-overlay sandwich glass lamp from the late 19th century, 34 works of African art, and an 1850s North Carolina-made sofa and table have been acquired by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
VMFAs trustees also approved the addition to the collection of eight lithographs by French artist Théodore Géricault, an early 20th-century Urban Realist scene by American Jerome Myers and a mid-20th-century polished blackware bowl by Maria Martinez of New Mexico.
Max Weber was hailed at his death as the Dean of American Moderns, says VMFA Director Alex Nyerges. He is widely regarded today as an influential figure in Americas first-generation avant garde, and we are delighted to add this striking painting to our American collection.
Weber was born in Russia in 1881 but was raised in New York City. He lived until 1961. Through much of his career he struggled to find a distinctive voice, but after experimenting with different Modernist styles he returned in the 1920s to the work of the artist Paul Cézanne, who remained his touchstone, says Dr. Sylvia Yount, VMFAs Louise B. and J. Harwood Cochrane Curator of American Art.
Although deeply informed by the work of Cézanne as well as the work of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, whom Weber knew well in Paris, Black Chair is far less derivative of the French masters than other contemporary American works, Yount says. She calls the museums new painting dynamic and commanding in scale and composition.
Black Chair is an oil on canvas measuring 47 by 31 inches and was purchased through VMFAs Floyd D. and Anne C. Gottwald Fund.
Imagination, skill and technology coalesced in the creation of the museums new monumental triple-overlay sandwich glass lamp, according to Yount. It was produced about 1865-75 by the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, the foremost manufacturer of domestic glass in 19th-century America.
The lamp which is made of blown, overlaid and wheel-cut glass with marble and brass; a frosted blown-glass shade; and a glass chimney is one of fewer than a dozen surviving examples of this design, size, quality and elegance, Yount says. It stands 41-5/8 inches tall.
In the late 1850s, the company adapted its line of lamps to accommodate kerosene and, at the same time, perfected a technique that allowed for new decorative possibilities. After fusing layers of colored blown-glass and shaping the glass by mold, artisans would then cut patterns through the opaque layers to reveal the clear layer below. The striking result is a lively, sparkling surface. The colors in the museums new lamp deep pink cut to opaque white cut to clear is unique, she writes in a presentation made to the museums trustees.
Yount calls the lamp an outstanding example of the aesthetic and technological achievements of 19th-century glass-making.
It was purchased with funds raised from the 2005 auction of glass items deaccessioned by VMFA and is credited as a gift of Dr. and Mrs. Henry P. Deyerle in memory of Mary Byrd Warwick Deyerle and Evelyn Byrd Deyerle; a bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar G. Gunn; a gift of Mrs. Peter Knowles; a gift of Helen K. Mackintosh in honor of her parents, the Reverend and Mrs. D. C. Mackintosh; a gift of William B. O'Neal; a gift of Mrs. A. D. Williams; and a gift of Mr. and Mrs. A. D. Williams and The Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Collection; by exchange.
The 34 20th-century African works added to the collection are of major significance because we know precisely where and when many of them were collected by the donor, Roger Provencher of Ladysmith, Va. Provencher served for many years in Africa as a U.S. State Department official. Among his assignments were Congo, Togo and Nigeria, where he acquired objects for his personal collection.
In 1958 he escorted the renowned photographer Arnold Newman, who was on assignment for Holiday magazine. They traveled to Mushenge, deep in the Belgian Congo, so that Newman could photograph the king of the Kuba people. It was there that Provencher acquired the many Kuba works he has now given to VMFA.
Not only is it very rare to have an unbroken provenance and knowledge of the place where works were collected in Africa, but Provencher also took many photographs that provide a view of the Kuba people and the locale at the time the works were obtained, says Richard Woodward, the museums curator of African art.
Among the Kuba works Provencher has given the museum are ornate objects made for the royal court, including swords, a beaded hat, an ornate pipe, a drum and seven textile panels. Other Kuba objects in the gift are a small oracle figurine in the form of a dog and a wooden box decorated in geometric patterns.
The gift also includes two masks, one from the Tchokwe culture and another from the Pende culture.
Other works from the Congo include ceremonial knives from the Mangbetu culture, a sword from the Salampasu culture and another from the Tetala culture, and an elephant-hunting spear from an unspecified Congo culture. The one work of non-Congo origin is an ornate ladle from the Yoruba culture of Nigeria and the Republic of Benin.
Two pieces of 1850s furniture added to the VMFA collection are by the celebrated African-American cabinetmaker Thomas Day (1801-1861), a native of Dinwiddie County, Va., who was born into a free black family and learned carpentry and cabinetmaking skills from his father.
In the late 1820s he moved to the small Dan River market town of Milton, N.C., where he opened his own shop that became one of the most successful furniture manufactories in the antebellum South, according to Dr. Elizabeth OLeary, VMFAs associate curator of American art. By the 1850s, Days business was the largest cabinet shop in North Carolina.
VMFAs two new pieces, in the Classical Revival style, are a sofa and a marble-top center table that well exemplify the skills of this talented craftsman and entrepreneur, OLeary says.
The sofa blends traditional and vernacular work but is animated by Days characteristic use of mannered scrolls and curves. The octagonal table is less stylized, but the black marble top is especially striking with its unusual perpendicular pattern of cream and gold striations, OLeary says.
The sofa is 80 inches long and stands 37-1/2 inches high. The table is 36 inches in diameter and stands 31 inches high. Both pieces feature mahogany veneer.
In the past 20 years, there has been a renewed interest in the life, career, furniture and architectural work of Thomas Day, and his furniture pieces have become prized additions in both private and public collections, OLeary says.
The two pieces were purchased through VMFAs Kathleen Boone Samuels Memorial Fund. Other items added to the VMFA collection were:
Eight lithographs by Thédore Géricault (French, 1791-1824), who was one of the towering geniuses of the Romantic period, according to Dr. Mitchell Merling, VMFAs Paul Mellon Curator and head of the department of European art. The selection focuses on a variety of equine subjects that, Merling says, will allow the museum to illustrate this important movement more comprehensively. They range in date from 1820 to 1823 and were a discretionary purchase by VMFAs director.