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James W. and Frances Gibson McGlothlin have made an unprecedented gift to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. What began as a pastime decades ago has become a way of life for the retired billionaire and his wife.

The McGlothlins have now donated even more works to the collection that they have already established at the museum. Their $200 million collection of 73 paintings has its own galleries — the James W. and Frances Gibson McGlothlin Collection of American Art.
Their passion is American art of the very highest quality. Their collection, on permanent view on the second floor of the museum, ranges from 1830-1930, with spectacular examples of the Colonial and Revolutionary Eras, the Early Republic , the Western era, the glamorous Gilded Age with its examples of realism and impressionism and American modernism. Susan J. Rawles and Christopher C. Oliver wrote the companion catalogue.

Rawles, associate curator of American painting and decorative art and acting head of American art remarks, “This gift positions the VMFA as a leader among American art collections. It also lays the foundation for an even stronger future.”

The biggest, most respected artists are on view there; for example, there are now 11 works by John Singer Sargent and at least half a dozen by William Merritt Chase; other stars in the show include George Inness, Winslow Homer, George Bellows and Maurice Prendergast. Actually, every artist in the collection is a star. There are a few lesser-known artists introduced to the public, yet all are of pristine quality, such as William Bradford and Robert Frederick Blum.

The McGlothlins began their quest for beautiful art 20 years ago. One day Fran took her entrepreneurial husband to an auction and he bought her a painting that she admired. Realizing that it was a hobby that they could pursue together, along with the guidance of private dealers Michael Altman and Ted Stebbins, they began collecting art, focusing on vibrant American artists.

Jim McGlothlin, having sold his company’s coal-mine holdings near Bristol, had become a billionaire. He loved the “art of the deal” and the intense negotiation that often occurs in the art auction world. The couple also loved the idea of sharing the beauty that they had acquired with others during their lifetime.

Painting Highlights
Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) was a painter of monumental landscapes; he often began with small sketches of the Hudson River near his home. Evening 1870, however, bathes the Western low lying mountain peaks in a golden orange glow; he is especially recognized for his grandiose Hudson River scenes made from his experimental sketches.

William Merritt Chase (1849—1916) “The Wounded Poacher” (1878) is a Chase early work; here a weather beaten man reveals his difficult life via dark tones and dramatic lighting . it was submitted to the first Society of American Artists exhibition in New York in 1878. Contrast this bit of harsh reality with the lovely “Friendly Advice” (1913). Here two lovely women are bathed in elegance in the salon of an imposing mansion. Paintings and marble columns and a bouquet form a backdrop for their conversation. And “A Mandolin Player—A Sketch” (1880) depicts a lady performing whose hands, fingers and face are indistinct. Evidently the music is more important than the artist.

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) It is impossible to not be awed by the gorgeous Venetian scenes and portraits of the world traveler. Sargent painted in the United States and Europe; he was especially at home in Venice. When in New York, Philadelphia and Boston, he painted wealthy society ladies and gentlemen to earn money.

The grandiose William Marshall Cazalet 1902 portrays an aristocratic gentleman in formal riding clothes standing beside his horse. Personalities interact in “Venetian Tavern” (1902) as four women eat, drink and converse with a gentleman in the background. Decorative bunches of grapes hang overhead. The dark tones of shawls and light shining on skirts draw the viewer into this unforgettable canvas. And experience the same sense of fluid movement as tourists in a gondola float under the dark “Rialto” (1909).

The VMFA’s newly published book describes the paintings in the collection. And the good news is that A Promise Fulfilled: The James W. and Frances Gibson McGothlin Collection is a permanent museum exhibition, open during VMFA hours at no charge. More information is available by visiting


Héloïse B. “Ginger” Levit is a private art dealer who writes about the arts and travel for several publications. Contact heWEr

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