When exploring the Virginia Beach and Norfolk area as a fine arts lover, somewhere you can’t miss out on is the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk. Tucked into a historic part of the city close to the Neon District, this gem of a museum holds over 30,000 treasures of art from all around the world you need to see!
*Cover illustration sourced from the Chrysler Museum of Art’s website*
Chrysler Museum History
One can say the roots of the Chrysler Museum of Art date to 1871, when Irene Leache and Anna Cogswell began to form an arts community in Norfolk, hosting discussion groups, poetry readings, and other events centered around the different arts. The Chrysler museum website states that in 1917 The Irene Leache Memorial founded the Norfolk Society of the Arts, which in turn petitioned the city to donate land for the first Art Museum in Norfolk. In 1933 the museum opened its doors as the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences.
In 1971 Walter P. Chrysler gifted a large portion of his art collection to the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences. After this great donation, the city agreed to build a new wing of the museum and rename the museum in his honor. In 2011 the Perry Glass Studio opened. There you can see glass-blowing artists who give live exhibitions, as well as host classes and events centered around the studio. After closing for nearly two years, the Chrysler Museum of Art reopened in 2014 with a newly renovated expansion that included additional gallery spaces and amenities like a cafe, which will be great for current and future generations.
This is just a short snapshot of the rich and beautiful history behind the Chrysler Museum collection. If you’d like to learn more about the in-depth history of the museum, you can check out the Encyclopedia of Virginia, which speaks in more detail about Walter P. Chrysler’s life and about the history of the donations and the expansion of the museum.
Chrysler Museum Art Collections
The many works of art housed in the Chrysler museum are vast and beautiful, and it might take you a few trips to get the full experience of the museum. The museum’s artwork spans over 5,000 years of different art periods, art forms, and movements. Glass and porcelain works and collections, Greek and Roman Art, Modern Art, and Impressionism are some of their most notable pieces.
When you walk into the multiple galleries and displays of glass art, you are sure to be amazed! The collection of glasswork in the Chrysler Museum is one of the most expansive and diverse. There are pieces of work as old as the year 399 B.C. from Egypt – these pieces still hold a beautiful quality and are a formation of wings, small bottles, and a face. It’s fascinating to see some fragile and beautiful works from ancient Roman time periods, as well as stunning Islamic and Sasanian artifacts. In many feature galleries like these, you may be able to catch a glimpse of interesting historical art periods or even get a taste of your own cultural heritage.
As you move through the glass displays, there are a variety of works from all over the world – some are more sculptural, and others had served a practical purpose like a cocktail glass or vase. There is also a beautiful display of Tiffany studios glass, where there are beautiful vases and illuminated stained glass windows that will have you in awe.
Another must-see display that is semi-related to the glass section is the porcelain display room. If you love the look of fine china, as well as learning the rich history behind works of art like these, you will have to check it out. The room is filled with English, French, and Chinese, and many detailed and delicate porcelain dishware and vases.
Chrysler Museum Paintings
There are many variations of genres, styles, and types of paintings throughout the museum from different time periods. Most of the paintings are from America and Europe. They range from portraits to landscapes, abstract shapes, religious scenes, and much more to explore.
Though they date through many periods, we will focus on a few Divisionist and Impressionist-style paintings you’ll want to see! In the upstairs of the museum, there is a large wing holding many impressionist paintings and sketches. Here you’ll find a bright, colorful stippling piece by Henri Edmond Cross called Excursion, of a waterscape scene with figures in the forefront who are not rich but regular people enjoying the pleasures of modern life, an ideal life he hoped could be true for everyone. His painting style uses built-up dots of pure color in combination to create a cohesive yet vibrant scene.
A few impressionist-era paintings you’ll want to gaze upon are The Family by Marie Cassatt, Lillies, Lanterns, and Sunshine by Helen Maria Turner, and The Daughters of Durand-Ruel. These are all paintings of people, mainly women, or children in particular, that capture calming scenes outside and are portraits or subtle interactions of women within the years 1892, 1882, and 1923. These impressionist period paintings have a softness to them and capture the likeness of the individuals in the paintings without a posed or forced manner.
Some other beautiful paintings to keep an eye out for are landscape, seascape, and cityscape paintings. Many of these works line the walls and seem to transport you to a certain spot overlooking nature, a city, or a scene – oftentimes capturing the fashion of a time period or time of day.
Modern and Contemporary Art
Up a winding staircase in the back of the museum and up to the top floor, you’ll discover much of the modern art displayed in the museum. A fan favorite is “All the Flowers are for Me” by Anila Quayyum Agha, which is a huge laser-cut lacquered stainless steel cube that is lit from inside. This display is deeply immersive and beautiful. The cutouts are detailed with symmetrical flowers and shapes which illuminate the plain white walls of the room it is in.
There are also other simple and contemplative modern art pieces scattered within this section of the museum. A few interesting and note-worthy artworks are by Roy Lichtenstein, who is famous for his pop art, and Miriam Schapiro, whose geometric and brightly colored painting seems to pop from the wall.
Photography, Sculptures, and other Artwork
There is lots more to see within the Chrysler Museum, including photography, sculptures, pottery, mosaics, and decorative arts. The museum holds more recent photography work in rotating galleries that can be shown in the museum for a few months time, as well as permanent work like the museum’s Civil War photography, photographs of Niagra Falls, and many other photographs capturing the industrial revolution and still frames of America throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Sculptures of some shape or form are also in nearly every gallery in the Chrysler Museum. Whichever gallery you wander through, there are sure to be many pieces of art anyone will love.
Is the Chrysler Museum Free?
One of the best things about visiting the Chrysler Museum is that it is free! Of course, you can make a donation if you feel inclined. There may be some events or classes that have a fee, which you can always look up on their website, or you can give them a call at (757) 664-6200 within their typical business hours, which are Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am-5 pm and Sunday from 12 pm – 5 pm. As a visitor, if you are looking to go to the museum on a certain holiday, make sure to check online or give them a call to see if it is open to the public on that day.
The museum staff are very friendly and will answer any questions you may have, as there is a desk in the front will you can look at maps or get other information about certain galleries and any work of art you’d like to see in particular. Some docents walk around each gallery area and can answer questions about particular works or point you in the right direction.
Chrysler Museum Events
Speaking of Chrysler Art Museum events, we’d love to highlight a few you may have some interest in! One of the top attractions to the Chrysler Museum is their Perry Glass Studio! Most times, you’ll see a live artist working on pieces, so you can actively see how some beautiful glass artwork is made without having to be enrolled in a class.
But if you are local to the area and want to try something new, the studio offers beginner hot glass classes. You can check out upcoming dates here. On their events page, you can also learn more about their events, field trips, and other events such as book club meetings, lectures with artists, and other professional learning series.
If you are looking to host a large event like a wedding or another sort of celebration, you are able to host these events in the museum as well, which are typically in their beautiful open entryway area.
Where Is the Chrysler Museum?
The Chrysler Museum of Art is an art museum on the border between downtown and the Ghent district of Norfolk, Virginia, at 1 Memorial Pl, Norfolk, VA, 23510. You won’t be able to miss it once you see the arched entryway and the large sculpture in front by Anna Hyatt Huntington of two male figures and a horse. Parking is free in a lot on the right-hand side of the art museum. We truly hope you get the chance to visit the Chrysler Art Museum, as it is one of the top cultural institutions in the Hampton Roads area!
Immerse Yourself in the Art World
Now that you know just a little bit more about the Chrysler Museum of Art, we hope that this article inspired you to want to experience the museum for yourself! The museum has many different permanent exhibitions and special exhibitions to see, so definitely keep an eye out on their social media and website for any changes or features of artwork. Whether you want to see the beautiful glass artwork, paintings, sculptures, photography, a rotating gallery, or join an event – we are sure you will find many pieces you’ll love.