VMFA Acquires Art Nouveau Necklace, African Gong, and A Selection of Photographs

A necklace by a pioneer in Art Nouveau Design, a rare wooden gong from the Gabon’s Tsogo culture, an 17th century Ethiopian icon and a selection of photographs including a work by Richmond-based Cynthia Henebry, are among the works acquired by VMFA in October.

Art Nouveau Necklace
Eugène Grasset, designer (Swiss, active in Paris, 1845-1917), Maison Vever, maker (Paris, 1821-1982), The Sorcerers (Les Sorcières) Necklace, 1900, gold, enamel, carnelian, chrysoprase, pendant: 5½”, chain: 17”. Sydney and Frances Lewis Endowment Fund.

An important artist and teacher, Eugène Grasset is considered by scholars to be a pioneer in Art Nouveau design. He was active as a designer of decorative arts, such as stained glass, furniture, jewelry, textiles, and ceramics. Today Grasset is especially known for his theatrical and advertising posters, magazine covers, and book illustrations. He provided many illustrations for books produced by the printer Charles Gillot. Through his close relationship with this successful printer, Grasset met the highly talented jeweler Henri Vever, who later commissioned designs by him for 20 pieces of jewelry for the international exhibition in Paris in 1900. This necklace, displayed by Maison Vever at the 1900 exhibition, was acquired in June 1900 by Gillot for his wife Marie. The Vever firm was awarded the prestigious Grand Prize for their display, a rich testimony to Art Nouveau “artistic” jewelry.

African Gong
African, Tsogo, Gong, 19th – 20th century, wood, paint; 17½”H × 7⅜”W × 3½”D Robert and Nancy Nooter Collection, Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund. Photo: Travis Fullerton ©Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

VMFA has purchased a rare wooden gong from Gabon’s Tsogo culture.  The gong is unusually complex in conception, with both the front and back showing a figure inside diamond-shaped fields. The gong was acquired from Robert and Nancy Nooter, longtime benefactors of the museum’s African art collection.  It will be a pivotal work in the in the Central African section of the collection, where other masks, figures, and architectural panels deal with the cycle of life, the ancestors, and divination. White coloring refers to the spirit realm, and its use on the face at the top of the gong echoes the chalking of young initiates during initiation to Bwiti, a system of spiritual practices prevalent in Gabon. Diamond-shaped markings incised on the side edges of the gong indicate the passage of life through its different stages. Chanting and the music of harps, drums, and gongs deepen the initiation experience. The gong has a soft, resonant timbre when struck by a wooden tapper.

Ethiopian Icon
African, Ethiopian, Triptych of the Virgin and Child flanked by Archangels and John the Baptist, 17th century Overall: 13¼”H × 17 7/16”W × 9/16”D. Gift of Robert and Nancy Nooter. Photo: Travis Fullerton ©Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Robert and Nancy Nooter of Washington, D.C., have donated an important Ethiopian icon to the museum’s African collection. The central panel of this triptych painting shows the Mary with Jesus in her lap.  The child gazes up at Mary, raising his right hand in blessing and holding the scriptures in his left. John the Baptist stands beside Mary, and Archangels flank the scene in the upper quarters. Painted on right panel of the folding icon is the Crucifixion, while the left panel shows the Anastasis, a particular convention of Ethiopian theology and iconography in which the    Resurrection of Christ includes the raising of Adam and Eve to demonstrate the forgiveness of sins. Disciples and saints, including St. George, patron saint of Ethiopia, slaying the dragon, fill out the panels. Ethiopian religious works were continually used and handled and therefore bear evidence of wear that testifies to the daily role these artworks played in the lives of the faithful.

American Photograph
Cynthia Henebry (American, b. 1973) Mavis in the Backseat, 2013, archival inkjet print, 40”H × 50”W Aldine S. Hartman Endowment Fund. Digital photo: Travis Fullerton ©Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Working with a large format camera and film, Cynthia Henebry explores the intersection between childhood and the adult world, with a specific focus on what she describes as the “fundamental disconnect” between adult perceptions of childhood and children’s own experience of themselves and their world. Henebry values her subjects’ ability to communicate for themselves and has developed an increasingly collaborative style while working with the children she photographs. Mavis emerges as one of the most distinctive models across Henebry’s recent series, The Marriage Oaks. In Mavis in the Backseat, the cavernous space of the station wagon emphasizes her diminutive presence, yet the intensity of her gaze suggests outsized thoughts and emotions contained within her small body.

A Richmond based artist, Cynthia Henebry recently received her MFA in Photography from Virginia Commonwealth University. VMFA also acquired two recent Lumen prints by Virginian photographer Willie Anne Wright and a photograph by LeRoy Henderson, who grew up in Richmond and now lives and works in Brooklyn.

Additional Acquisitions
•    Gene Kloss (American, 1903-1996), Christmas Eve – Taos Pueblo, 1946, drypoint on paper, edition of 75 Funds provided by Frank Raysor  in gratitude for VMFA’s Member Travel program.

•    William D. Washington (American, 1833-1870), The Burial of Latane, 1868, steel engraving on paper (in period frame with period glass), 24 x 31”.  John Barton Payne Fund.

European Decorative Arts
•    George Barbier (French, 1882-1932), La Belle Dame Sans Merci (The Beautiful Lady without Mercy), 1921, watercolor and pen on paper.  John and Maria Shugars Fund.

•    James Henri Cartier-Bresson, Peshawar, Pashtuns at the Bazaar, 1948/printed later, gelatin silver print.  Kathleen Boone Samuels Memorial Fund.

•    Andre de Dienes (American, born 1913), Marilyn, Ecstasy, ca.1945, vintage silver gelatin photograph. Aldine S. Hartman Endowment Fund.

•    Jim Dow, Motel Sign at Night, US 11, Chattanooga, 1979, chromogenic dye coupler print.  Kathleen Boone Samuels Memorial Fund.

•    Ralph Gibson, Untitled (nude), 1971, gelatin silver print. .  Kathleen Boone Samuels Memorial Fund.

•    William Gottlieb, Nat King Cole, New York, June, 1947/printed later, gelatin silver print.  Kathleen Boone Samuels Memorial Fund.

•    LeRoy Henderson (American, b. 1936), Boy with Flag, 1989, silver gelatin print.  Funds provided by Linda Sawyers, Richmond.

•    Ervin Marton (Hungarian, 1912–1968), Untitled (Hand & lace), undated vintage silver gelatin photogram.   Aldine S. Hartman Endowment Fund.

•    Lee Miller, Mr. and Mrs. Bukins Flat, 1940, vintage gelatin silver print.  Kathleen Boone Samuels Memorial Fund.

•    Edward Weston, Untitled (3 Cacti, Joshua Tree), 1937, vintage gelatin silver print.  Kathleen Boone Samuels Memorial Fund.

•    Willie Anne Wright (American, born 1924), Branch with Brugs, 2013, Lumen print (unique).  Aldine S. Hartman Endowment Fund.

•    Willie Anne Wright (American, born 1924), Pensive Girl #2, 2011, Lumen print (unique).  Funds provided by Linda Sawyers, Richmond.

About VMFA acquisitions
These works of art were approved by the VMFA Board of Trustees in October 2014. VMFA is a state agency and a public/private partnership. All art is purchased with private funds from dedicated endowments. After VMFA’s board approves proposed acquisitions the art becomes the property of the Commonwealth of Virginia to protect, preserve, and interpret.

About the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
VMFA’s permanent collection encompasses more than 33,000 works of art spanning 5,000 years of world history. Its collections of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, English silver, Fabergé, and the art of South Asia are among the finest in the nation. With acclaimed holdings in American, British Sporting, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist, and Modern and Contemporary art – and additional strengths in African, Ancient, East Asian, and European – VMFA ranks as one of the top comprehensive art museums in the United States. Programs include educational activities and studio classes for all ages, plus lively after-hours events. VMFA’s Statewide program includes traveling exhibitions, artist and teacher workshops, and lectures across the Commonwealth. VMFA, a certified Virginia Green attraction, is open 365 days a year and general admission is always free. For additional information, telephone 804-340-1400 or visit www.vmfa.museum.

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