Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
The Virginia Museum is one of the leading museums of its kind in the South.
Virginia Historical Society
On 27 February 1932 the General Assembly passed legislation
authorizing the governor of the commonwealth to accept a gift of $100,000 from Judge John Barton
Payne to be used in the construction of a state art museum. This challenge grant would lay the
groundwork for the raising of funds to build the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
In 1919, Judge Payne made his first great contribution to the creation of a state museum dedicated
to the arts—a donation of his personal collection of more than fifty paintings attributed to the "old masters."
Lacking a suitable home for the collection, the commonwealth installed the paintings at the recently
constructed Battle Abbey on the Boulevard in Richmond. Public support for the creation of a state
museum had grown throughout the early twentieth century, but funds for such an effort had been
lacking. However, with Payne's donation, such a goal seemed to be closer at hand than ever before.
In many ways, Payne's challenge grant could not have come at a worse time for state legislators
and private donors. Financial conditions throughout the country forced most Americans to keep
a watchful eye on expenditures. Though it recognized an unique opportunity was at hand, the
General Assembly was unable to commit any funds to the project. Payne's gift would need to
be matched by the general public.
The task of coordinating the raising of matching funds fell largely to the governor, John Garland
Pollard. Through extensive efforts, funds were obtained from several major donors. Securing
a site for the museum and determining its design proved equally challenging. Eventually, it was
decided to construct a Georgian-style museum on the site of the R. E. Lee Camp Soldiers'
Home on the outskirts of the Richmond city limits. The museum would open in 1936, with
Payne's donated paintings serving as the basis of the collection.
Today, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is a prosperous institution, boasting extensive
and unique collections of European decorative art, African, Asian and Indian art, British
sporting art, and contemporary art. In the eyes of many, the Virginia Museum is one of
the leading museums of its kind in the South.
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