Special Collections and Archives

The Margaret R. and Robert M. Freeman Library provides access to a wealth of rare and unique primary source materials for scholars, researchers, and the public.

The rare book collection consists of 4,500 volumes of monographs, exhibition catalogs, portfolios and rare journals representing the full range of the humanities and arts disciplines held by the Freeman Library. Areas of emphasis reflect the strengths of Museum holdings in the areas of Art Nouveau, Art Deco, decorative arts, Arts and Crafts (particularly Elbert Hubbard and the Roycrofters), and German Expressionism). Artist illustrated books, European and American publishers’ bindings, and turn of the century periodicals are other areas of interest.

The Archives’ collections consist 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. The Archives also recently launched the Virginia Artists Archives, a collecting initiative that aims to create a rich, diverse, and unprecedented collection of Virginia artists’ papers to increase awareness about the contributions of Virginia artists, both past and present.

Using the Collections

Requests to use materials from special collections should be made 24 hours in advance. Patrons must fill out the Special Collections Registration Form during their first visit to the Library. Signing this form signifies that the patron has read the “Guide to the Use of VMFA’s Special Collections”, and agrees to abide by its policies.

Patrons are also required to present identification at the reference desk during their first visit. Acceptable forms of ID include a valid driver’s license or passport. Patrons will have to complete a new registration form and present valid identification annually.

As a state agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Archives shall restrict access to public records only when sensitive material is present. Such restrictions will be applied in accordance with the Virginia Freedom of Information Act and the Virginia Government Data Collection and Dissemination Practices Act. Access to privately donated collections may be restricted by the donors of the material. Both Museum staff and the public may need written permission from the Director to view certain restricted records. Anyone seeking to perform research in an unprocessed or minimally processed collection will need to allow extra time for the materials to be reviewed first.

Exhibition History

The Archives maintains a comprehensive list of the more than 1,300 exhibitions held at VMFA since its opening in 1936. This list includes exhibitions organized by VMFA or by other institutions. It does not include exhibitions organized by VMFA which were not shown in Richmond. It also generally does not include exhibitions organized for children’s educational purposes. There is a file for each exhibition in the Freeman Library, which may contain publicity clippings, invitations, checklists, correspondence, and other ephemera. The Archives also maintains a publications collection which includes copies of every exhibition catalog published.

To find a specific exhibition, you may select one of the decades below, or you can view the entire VMFA Exhibition History. Additionally, you can view charts which detail the number of exhibitions held each year, the duration of the exhibitions, and the various exhibition series held over the years (note: these charts only analyzed the exhibitions through 2009).

1936 – 1939
1940 – 1949
1950 – 1959
1960 – 1969
1970 – 1979
1980 – 1989
1990 – 1999
2000 – 2009
2010 – 2019
2020 – 2022

In addition, the Freeman Library maintains lists of the 60 exhibitions presented through the Artmobile program from 1953 to 1994, as well as hundreds of exhibitions that traveled throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia through the Statewide program, beginning in the 1930s. The documentation of the history of Statewide exhibitions is an ongoing project, so those lists will continue to be updated as more information is added.