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Monday, April 6, 2015

Virginia Art

Virginia Landscape, Kelly Rasmussen
In my continuing series delving into the state of art in the various states of the United States, the Commonwealth (not state) of Virginia has come to pique my interest. Nicknamed the "Old Dominion," and the "Mother of Presidents" (birthplace of eight), we might also refer to it geographically as the northernmost of the southern states having been one of the first to be permanently settled by European immigrants (Jamestown, 1607). As with most of the other British colonies, the art of Virginia grew first out of portraiture in the early 1700s, then landscape painting in the early 1800s. Wealthy Virginia plantation owners wanted to be remembered first, and then to boast their vast land holdings. Two of the eight Virginia presidents especially stand out in this regard, Washington, and Jefferson, though most of the others also prone to this attitude.

George Washington in Retirement at His Home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, 1797, Currier and Ives
West Front, Monticello, Jane Braddick Peticolas.
George Washington had his Mount Vernon (above), Jefferson his Monticello (left). I've visited both and painted both. I'd post them here, but not being from Virginia, that might be a bit presumptuous of me. (They're also long ago, stashed far away, and long since sold, so digging them up would hardly be worth the effort.) The fellows at Currie & Ives capitalized on Washington's retirement in 1797 to depict the Father of our Country as a simple (slave owning) country farmer while Jefferson's stately estate featured his stepchildren enjoying the front yard (the slaves were all too busy to pose).

Cornwallis' Surrender at Yorktown, 1797, John Trumbull
Like many of the older states of the United States, Virginia is as rich in history as it is in art history, the two inevitably intertwined. It's somewhat of an oversimplification, but most of this history is draped over its having endured two major wars--the 18th-century Revolutionary War, and the mid-19th-century Civil War. Trumbull's Cornwallis' Surrender at Yorktown, from 1797, symbolizes the first conflict. The second is not so simple, with several different facets which Virginia artists have felt the need to explore. One of the earliest, and most often ignored of these is Thomas Moran's Slave Hunt, Dismal Swamp, Virginia (below) dating from 1862. It's not hard to see where the artist's sympathies lie.

Slave Hunt Dismal Swamp Virginia, 1862, Thomas Moran
The Civil War is heavily laden with art. Having come near the dawn of practical photography, and long before it could be published in newspapers or magazines, the artist reigned supreme in depicting the conflict, both from the battlefield and from the comforts of his studio in the decades that followed. Walter Colvin's CSS Virginia (formerly the Merrimac, below), tied with its nemesis, the USS Monitor in being the world's first ironclad naval vessel. Colvin, quite naturally, depicting her proudly cruising, rather than barely limping back to port after the battle.

CSS Virginia, (date uncertain, but long after the war), Walter Colvin
Though both Jefferson's and Washington's homes were spared the devastation of war, such was not the case with many other bastions of the southern aristocracy, such as William Byrd's plantation at Westover, Virginia (below), dating from 1865, in which the artist, Edward Lamson Henry, depicts the war ravaged estate, one wing in ruins, yet still a central hub for post-war local activity.

Westover Virginia, 1865, Edward Lamson Henry
As with all good things, all bad things eventually come to an end. Jean Leon Gerome Ferris's Let Us Have Peace (below), dates from 1865, likely painted just shortly after the scene took place at Virginia's rural Appomattox Courthouse in order to capitalize on the event, hoping to sell prints and the painting itself. It's said to be fairly accurate.

Let Us Have Peace, 1865, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

It would be unfair to hang all of Virginia's history on the back of two wars. Any state whose culture and educational system produces eight presidents has far more going for it than war (or art). During the early 1900s, a local pastor by the name of Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin persuaded John D. Rockefeller, Jr., even in the midst of the Great Depression, to help him preserve Virginia's rapidly deteriorating colonial capital at Williamsburg. The results, as seen by Robert Finale in his Colonial Williamsburg (below), speak for themselves. I've been there...painted that, as well. Situated at the very hub of Virginia's colonial history (Jamestown, Yorktown, and the Carter's Grove plantation on the picturesque James River), I'd place it at the top of the state's commonwealth's must-see attractions.

Colonial Williamsburg, Robert Finale
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond ,VA.
Art in Virginia today is more than wars and giant, outdoor, museum artifacts. It's blessed with a couple major art museums as well, one in Richmond, the other in Roanoke. Though both are rather new and modern looking, they could hardly be more different. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (left) is strikingly contemporary, yet at the same time, appears almost "stogy" as compared to the daring architecture of Roanoke's Taubman Museum of Art (below). Quite apart from their holdings, the two museums stand as examples of the two competing trends in museum design today. Richmond's Virginia Museum of Fine Arts merely houses its collection. The Roanoke facility strives to become a part of the art within its walls--a work of art itself.
Taubman Museum of Art, Roanoke, VA, by American architect, Rick Mather.
King Neptune, Paul diPasquale, Virginia Beach
I'd be remiss in talking about the art of Virginia if I failed to highlight the art of today. For the most part it has little to do with the past, more oriented instead to the present and the future. Richmond Sculptor, Paul diPasquale's King Neptune (left), is something of a link between the two. Though modern-day in origin,  reigning over Virginia Beach, it hearkens back to Greek mythology long before there was a Virginia. Perhaps not far from diPasquale's King Neptune, Jennifer E. Young has rendered the state's namesake playground with the all-important mixture of sun, sand, and salty seawater.

Beach Day 2, Jennifer E. Young
White Charlet Cow, Norma Wilson--
What'chu lookin' at? You lookin' at ME?


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