The NEW Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond is so worth a visit, rain or shine.
Like James Madison's home, Montpelier, the museum went through a very lengthy major renovation a few years ago. Unlike Montpelier, which reduced its size by two-thirds, the art museum EXPANDED by more than a third.
BUT, one thing hasn't changed. It's still FREE, although donations are always welcome. (And the Virginia Historical Society next door is free too!)
Having spent five years in New York City (and many hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other world-class art museums around the world)--we have pretty high expectations for art museums. So when we first moved to Virginia we were pleasantly surprised by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' collection.
My favorite part was actually quite small. It was a special room dedicated to their collection of stunning Faberge eggs and other artifacts by Peter Carl Faberge (it was one of the largest permanent collections of Faberge eggs and artifacts outside Russia).
Most were items created by the Faberge company and sold to the Romanov family and other Russian royalty. Composed by gold and other precious metals, brilliant cloisonné, and precious stones, the picture frames, cigarette cases, umbrella handles, and other objets de luxe are breathtaking and meticulously crafted.
The highlight for me was (and still is) four Imperial Easter eggs, which were created by Faberge specifically for the last Russian czar, Nicholas II, to give to his wife, Czarina Alexandra, at Easter.
All Imperial Easter eggs come on a stand and have a surprise: for example, the Red Cross Egg, so-called because it is white with a red cross to symbolize the international Red Cross, opens up to reveal miniature frames with portraits of the Czarina, two of his daughters, and other family members in nursing uniforms.
While the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' Egyptian and Asian collection isn't large, the new museum is so huge, they have a good collection of European and American oils and watercolors, as well as a modern art section that even I enjoy (so you know it must be good!).
Here are a few highlights (and tips):
- The Art Deco and Art Nouveau exhibits, full of truly fantastic furniture out of a dream (or nightmare)
- Be sure to pick up a Family Fun Guide which sends kids on a one-hour scavenger hunt for seven art pieces
- The huge $1 bill-inspired colored sand painting (the artist made the painting, put it behind glass, and then had ants build tunnels throughout it). It’s your chance to see George Washington crumbling. (Update: Unfortunately, last time I was there they had put it back in their archives, but maybe it will be out when you visit.)
- A really cool (but pricey gift shop) with one of a kind gifts, like a flash drive that looks like Legos
- Not one, but two gourmet cafes
- The Faberge Collection, featuring Faberge eggs and objets d’art (see if you can spot the fakes)
- Take a free audio tour, either by borrowing one of their audio phones or through your cell phone – get details near the front entrance
Off the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' marbled foyer, they have a nice gift shop, and a rather elegant little café featuring sandwiches, light entrees, espressos, and desserts. (They also have kids fare like grilled cheese and PBJ.) The Best Café is open 10 am-5 pm, and until 8 pm Thursdays and Fridays. If you want to bring your own lunch, you are welcome to eat it in the Best Café, or in the patios outside.
(For something different, try their vegetarian box, with hummus, pita bread, grape leaves, and salad. Or you can do like my kids and just have pizza. But save room for their desserts!)
For fine dining, the Amuse Restaurant is open daily 11:30 am-5 pm (open til 9 pm Thurs & Fri). I haven't tried it, but I looked at the menu and it looked very gourmet. It was also packed (on a Monday no less) with lots of people in business attire, so it seems to be the new "in" spot to dine.
As I mentioned, admission to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is free (okay, a suggested donation), which makes it a perfect spot for a family vacation getaway.
Visiting exhibitions, which have included paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec, exhibits of Tiffany and Picasso, and Faberge eggs, and selections from the private collection of Queen Elizabeth II, range from $8-$20 per adult.
Parking for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is $3 per day in the VMFA Parking Deck. You may be able to find free parking in the Virginia Historical Society lot next door (I always do!).
Location: 2800 Grove Avenue, 804-367-0844. Hours: Open 365 days a year - Sat–Wed: 10 am–5 pm; Thur/Fri: 10 am–9 pm. Website: http://www.vmfa.state.va.us
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