The Chrysler Museum of Art is one of America’s most distinguished mid-sized art museums, with a nationally recognized collection of more than 30,000 objects, including one of the great glass collections in America. The core of the Chrysler’s collection comes from Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., an avid art collector who donated thousands of objects from his private collection to the Museum. In the years since Chrysler’s death in 1988, the Museum has dramatically enhanced its collection and extended its ties with the Norfolk community. The Museum, expanded in 2014 to add additional gallery spaces and amenities for visitors, now has growing collections in many areas. The Chrysler also mounts an ambitious schedule of exhibitions and educational programs and events each season.
The Perry Glass Studio is a state-of-art facility on the Museum’s campus. The studio offers programming for aspiring and master artists alike in a variety of processes including glassblowing, fusing, flameworking, coldworking and neon. The studio has also cultivated a reputation for its cutting-edge performance evenings and was the host venue of the 2017 Glass Arts Society Conference.
In addition, the Chrysler Museum of Art administers two historic houses in downtown Norfolk: the Moses Myers House and the Willoughby-Baylor House, as well as the Jean Outland Chrysler Library on the campus of Old Dominion University.
The Chrysler Museum of Art, One Memorial Place, Norfolk, and its Perry Glass Studio at 745 Duke St., are open to the public Tuesday–Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. The Historic Houses on East Freemason Street are open weekends. General admission is free at all venues.
he history of the Chrysler Museum includes stories of 19th century feminist visionaries and a mid-20th century penny drive by schoolchildren to buy a single Renoir that was about the size of a paperback book. The exhibition history ranges from taxidermy displays and Confederate relics to paintings that had price tags attached.
Clearly, everything moved to a new level when Walter Chrysler, Jr. came to town.
From 1932, the Museum under construction. Click to enlarge.
The son of the car company founder moved his fledgling museum from a cramped Massachusetts church to Norfolk in 1971. The city promised support, space and commitment, and 10,000 works of art later, the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences was the Chrysler Museum of Art.
The story of Chrysler’s gift transcends just the number of works. It’s what he collected that remains breathtaking to this day. A legendary art critic with The New York Times, a man who’d had issues with the mercurial Chrysler in the past, had a chance to see the collection in its new home a few years after Chrysler’s death. And he called our namesake the most underrated American collector of his era.
As a young man, Chrysler met the top avant-garde artists of Paris and was soon purchasing works by them all. He spent his summers in American artist colonies such as Provincetown, Mass., and by doing so, he wound up buying works from future art stars well before they were famous. Chrysler would also buy against fashion, as he had confidence that the special qualities he saw in various pieces would gain acceptance later. He also had a oceanside neighbor, named Tiffany, who knew a bit about glass.
Perhaps what’s most remarkable about Chrysler was the almost impossible-to-define sense of knowing which one to buy; that is, if you can have only one example of a certain artist or certain style, which one would you pick and why? Such judgments are completely subjective, of course, but there are experts who believe that in a lot of cases, Walter Chrysler had a knack for getting the right one.
But not always. Chrysler’s collection arguably rivals those of Barnes in Philadelphia or Phillips in Washington, D.C., but if Chrysler had kept his best works, there might not be an argument. Chrysler was wealthy, but not on the super-rich scale you see today, and he traded works like baseball cards. A single Thomas Cole painting now on view was acquired for 11 other works.
The man who once owned a couple hundred Picassos made some good trades and some not-so-good trades, and some really fine pieces can now be found elsewhere. Before he decided on a museum of his own, he was generous with institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. And as a prime example of the ones that got away, check out this work now at the Art Institute of Chicago.
For more details specifically related to Walter Chrysler, Jr., click here. Chrysler’s contributions to this Museum are no doubt monumental, but there are many other people who have made valuable contributions, and the history of the Chrysler is their story, too. And we haven’t even started writing on all the good things that have happened here in the four decades since Chrysler’s gift.
Expansion and renovation
The museum’s main building underwent expansion and renovation and reopened on May 10, 2014. During the renovation, the Glass Studio and the Moses Myers House remained open and art was displayed at venues throughout the community. The museum’s grand reopening included the Rubber Duck floating sculpture from May 17–26, 2014.
The New York Times described the Chrysler collection as “one any museum in the world would kill for.” Comprising over 30,000 objects, the collection spans over 5,000 years of world history. American and European paintings and sculpture from the Middle Ages to the present day form the core of the collection.
The museum’s most significant holdings include works by Tintoretto, Veronese, Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velázquez, Salvator Rosa, Gianlorenzo Bernini, John Singleton Copley, Thomas Cole, Eugène Delacroix, Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Gustave Doré, Albert Bierstadt, Auguste Rodin, Mary Cassatt, Paul Gauguin, Georges Rouault, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Edward Hopper, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Richard Diebenkorn, Karen LaMonte and Franz Kline.
The Chrysler Museum is home to the final sculpture of the Baroque master Gianlorenzo Bernini, a marble bust of Jesus Christ created as a gift for the artist’s benefactor, Queen Christina of Sweden. The Museum also houses one of the world’s greatest collections of glass (including outstanding works by Louis Comfort Tiffany), distinguished holdings in the decorative arts, and a fine and growing collection of photography. The arts of the ancient world, Asia, Africa, and Pre-Columbian America (particularly Maya ceramics) are also well represented.
Programs and exhibitions
The Chrysler Museum provides guided tours, lectures, films, concerts, family days, travel programs, and publications. Each year, over 100 Volunteer Docents welcome over 60,000 students from Hampton Roads’ schools for tours at the museum.
The Chrysler displays its permanent collection, and several changing exhibitions including works from around the globe. Recent offerings include Rembrandt’s Etchings: The Embrace and Darkness of Light, From Goya to Sorolla: Masterpieces from The Hispanic Society of America, To Conserve a Legacy: American Art from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Rodin: Sculpture from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collection and American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell.
Jean Outland Chrysler Library
The Jean Outland Chrysler Library is one of the largest art libraries in the South. The collection covers the entire history of world art, with special emphasis on material relevant to the Chrysler’s permanent collection. The library subscribes to several hundred art-related journals, has an extensive collection of current and historical auction catalogues, and exchanges publications with 400 art museums around the world.
The library is named in honor of Jean Outland Chrysler, wife of the late Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., who played a leading role in its formation and expansion. The collection is based on the original holdings of the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences library. In 1977, the library of the London art dealer M. Knoedler & Co. was purchased, adding major historical reference volumes, periodicals, and rare annotated sales catalogues. The library also houses the museum’s archives, which includes Mark Twain’s original typescript of a speech he delivered at the Jamestown Tricentennial Exposition of 1907, and a collection of papers from the Moses Myers family provides unique insights into the life of an important Tidewater merchant during the United States’ early history.
The Jean Outland Chrysler Library moved from the Chrysler Museum of Art into a new art building on Old Dominion University campus in 2014.
In addition to its main building in downtown Norfolk, the Chrysler Museum of Art administers two important historic houses.
Moses Myers House
The Moses Myers House in downtown Norfolk is an example of Federal period architecture and retains 70 percent of its original contents. The house and its furnishings allow visitors to experience first-hand the life of a prosperous Jewish merchant and his family during the early 19th century. Moses Myers moved to Norfolk in 1787 with his wife Eliza. Five years later, he purchased a large lot where he erected a home for his family. Today the house contains an important collection of American, English and French furniture, glass, silver, ceramics, and portraits by Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Sully, and John Wesley Jarvis. All were commissioned or acquired by members of the Myers family.
The house was built about 1792 and is a two-story, Federal style brick townhouse. Its facade features a pedimented gable end roof and a small aedicula type portico surrounding the front door. In 1796, a two-story octagonal ended wing attributed to Benjamin H. Latrobe was added to the rear of the house to contain a large dining room. Also on the rear are a two-story service wing and an attached two-story kitchen. A historic renovation of the house occurred in 1906 in anticipation of the Jamestown Exposition. The house was converted to a house museum in 1931.
It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, with an amendment made in 2009.
Norfolk History Museum at the Willoughby-Baylor House
The Norfolk History Museum at the Willoughby-Baylor House at the newly refurbished Willoughby-Baylor House (ca. 1794) illuminates the history of the region by providing thematic offerings and surveys including the decorative arts of Norfolk, the story of Norfolk at stages in its history as an international port and maritime center, and the area’s naval and military heritage.