The Muscarelle Museum of Art is a university museum affiliated with The College of William & Mary in Virginia. While the Museum only dates to 1983, the College art collection has been in existence since its first gift – a portrait of the physicist Robert Boyle – in 1732. Most early gifts to the College relate to its history or the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Gifts of portraiture were the foundation of the early collection and include many First Families of Virginia (FFV) including sitters from the Page, Bolling and Randolph families.
Throughout the years, gifts of art continued to accumulate including a donation of White Flower by Georgia O’Keeffe given to the College in the 1930s by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. This major work in the collection had indiscriminately “decorated” various campus walls, old and new, until it was re-discovered by President Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. in the 1970s. Graves tasked Dr. Miles Chappell, from the department of art and art history, to make a college-wide inventory. It was at that time that the immensity and importance of the growing collection was understood and the need for a university museum became apparent.
With the support of numerous alumni, including a major benefactor, Joseph L. Muscarelle (W&M ’27) and his wife Margaret, the Muscarelle Museum of Art opened in 1983 with Dr. Glenn D. Lowry as director. In 1987, the second director, Mark Johnson oversaw the expansion of the facility and the first American Alliance of Museums accreditation in 1988. Subsequent accreditations came in 2000 under Dr. Bonnie Kelm and in 2012 under the present director, Dr. Aaron H. De Groft.
Today the collection numbers over 5,000 works. Of particular note are Colonial American and English seventeenth and eighteenth century portraits; a survey collection of original prints and drawings from the fifteenth through the twenty-first centuries including Japanese prints and a major collection of German Expressionist works by Hans Grohs; and the Jean Outland Chrysler collection of American modern works interpreted in oils, drawings, watercolors, and sculpture. Recent acquisitions include European master works by such artists as Agnolo Bronzino, Luca Giordano, Guido Reni, Luca Forte, Annibale Carracci among others.
Plans are underway to build a new multi-purpose facility for the museum, to increase the space allotted to both traveling exhibitions and the permanent collection. The new facility will also create additional space for storage, lectures, events, and programming.