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Especially noteworthy are the museum’s collections of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Modern and Contemporary American art donated by Sydney and Frances Lewis; French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art and British sporting art given by Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon; American art acquired through the J. Harwood and Louise B. Cochrane Fund; The Lillian Thomas Pratt Collection of Fabergé jeweled objects; and The Jerome and Rita Gans Collection of English Silver. The museum’s holdings of South Asian, Himalayan, and African art are among the finest in the nation.
VMFA’s collection of African art, regarded as one of the most comprehensive in the United States, features figures, masks, textiles, regalia, and ritual objects from more than 100 cultures throughout the continent. The collection presents a coherent, broad-based view of the arts and cultural history in Africa from the first millennium BC to the present day.
VMFA’s historical American art collection represents three centuries of cultural exchange and development. With more than 2,700 objects ranging from the late 17th through the mid-20th century, the holdings include painting, sculpture, works on paper, and decorative arts—with particular strengths in works by women and artists of color.
VMFA’s collection of ancient Mediterranean art spans more than 5,000 years of human history, from Pre-Dynastic Egypt in the 4th millennium BC through the fall of the Byzantine Empire in AD 1453. Our primary collecting areas are ancient Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman art but major works from the civilizations of Western Asia and Nubia allow visitors to discover connections that bound the ancient Mediterranean basin and its periphery together.
VMFA houses one of the most significant public collections of decorative arts in the French Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, spanning the years 1895 through 1935. Highlights include lamps by Louis Comfort Tiffany, American and British Arts and Crafts objects by major architects and designers, and a distinguished group of Art Deco objects made in Paris.
Representing more than 4,500 years of visual history, VMFA’s East Asian collection features paintings, prints, sculptures, textiles, ceramics, metalwork, objects in lacquer and jade, and other art forms from China, Japan, and Korea. Collection themes include the Bronze Age, the spread of Buddhism, cross-cultural influences, ceramic development and trade, poetry and calligraphy, scholars’ implements, tea-ceremony vessels, and incense art.
VMFA’s Native American art collection includes objects dating from prehistoric times to the present day. Geographic regions that are particularly well represented include the Arctic North, Northwest Coast, Plains, and Southwest. The collection encompasses a great variety of media, including textiles, ceramics, beadwork, sculpture, painting, and photography.
The Jordan and Thomas A. Saunders III Collection, a long term loan and special exhibition, features paintings and decorative art objects from the Baroque and Rococo periods, including works by “Old World masters” such as Jan Bruegel the Younger, Canaletto, Francesco Guardi, Peter Paul Rubens, Hubert Robert, Pierre-Jacques Volaire, and others.
In 1944, only nine years after opening its doors, the VMFA acquired its first work by an African American artist. Since that time, the Museum has remained steadfast in building a collection reflective of the African American experience and expression. In 2015, the VMFA redoubled these efforts, launching an initiative to significantly deepen its holdings of African, African American and African Diasporic artists as a means to expand its connection to an ever growing diverse community.
Thanks to Lillian Thomas Pratt, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has the largest public collection of Fabergé and Russian decorative arts in an American museum. It includes about 200 objects by or attributed to the Fabergé firm, as well as “Old Russian”–style works, such as silver and enamels, by Feodor Rückert and other masters.
The Rare Book Collection is a special collection of the Margaret R. and Robert M. Freeman library and comprises approximately 3,600 volumes including monographs, exhibition catalogs, portfolios and rare journals representing the full range of the humanities and arts disciplines. Areas of particular strength include materials related to turn of the century decorative arts and design especially Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and Art Deco periods.
The Archives consists of over 2,000 linear feet of diverse and growing permanent materials, covering museum history from its beginnings in the 1930s until today. The Archives includes institutional records from over 25 museum departments, thousands of artist and subject files, as well as donated collections related to the museum and the history of art in Virginia.