This summer, the newly expanded Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond is featuring “Tiffany: Color and Light,” a collaborative exhibit between the VMFA, the Musee du Luxembourg and The Montreal Museum of Fine Art until August 15.
One hundred and seventy works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, including lamps, decorative objects, massive window panels for churches and silver tableware gives visitors a rare view into the complexities of the Tiffany portfolio.
The multi-room exhibit at the VMFA is well-designed with many object d’art displayed in glass cases that enable visitors to get a 360 view. For instance, in one room I stumbled upon a vase decorated with orange koi. Looking at it head on the fish appeared flat, but when I noticed a woman crouching below the display, I joined her and looked up to see the fish were actually suspended in glass to give the effect of swimming.
Massive panels from Erskine and American church in Montreal fill an alcove. The room is darkened to enhance the play of light on the glass. In one panel, a subtle change in opacity of the glass makes the light emanating from the baby Jesus just a touch brighter than other figures.
Another room is largely dedicated to the lamps, some table, some standing. Examining these lamps as a collection gives you insight into why Tiffany believed it so important to cast his own bases. The wisteria table lamp is an excellent example with its textured bark trunk.
This lamp, like many other important pieces, was the brainchild of Clara Driscoll, a designer who oversaw one of Tiffany’s workshops. Clara and her band of female workers—rare in the late 19th and early 20th century— were given important creative control and meaningful commissions. This group produced some of the most interesting Tiffany work, including the iconic dragonfly lamp.
There are many great places to stay in Richmond, but on this Tiffany-inspired sojourn, book a room at The Jefferson Hotel. A Tiffany glass dome caps the lobby above the check-in desk in Palm Court. Reportedly, nine of the twelve panels were created by Tiffany.
This hotel, built in 1895, is one of America’s grand dames. The limestone and brick Beaux Arts building was designed by Carrere and Hastings, the renown architectural firm that designed the New York Public Library. Luminaries from FDR to F. Scott Fitzgerald to Elvis Presley stayed here, but this property isn’t a has-been. It remains an elegant, smart hotel that makes you love travel again.
Not only is the lobby spectacularly beautiful, luring you down at every chance, but it’s also got elements you can’t resist photographing. Take the polished marble staircase that was the inspiration for the one that Rhett Butler carries Scarlett O’Hara up in Gone With The Wind.
In the center of the lobby is a marble statue of Jefferson wearing a neck scarf. A neck scarf? In 1901 a fire ripped through the hotel. When employees went to save Mr. Jefferson, they pushed him over onto a mattress and when he fell, his head rolled off. The statue was safely escorted off the premises and away from the fire and spent the next couple of months resting on a neighbor’s lawn until the sculptor could return from Europe and recreate the head. The addition of the scarf provided camouflage for the seam between the original body and new head.
As you pull up to the hotel, you’ll notice a sculpture of an alligator. Indoors, at the foot of the Jefferson statue you’ll discover another alligator with a gaping jaw. These metal specimens are a nod to the original live alligators that lived in marble pools in the lobby until the last alligator named Old Pompey died in 1948.
Make reservations at Lemaire, the hotel’s fine-ding restaurant. Known for its classic haute cuisine, Lemaire has relaxed a bit, embracing small plates and a creative bar menu. Try the Rappahannock River oysters served with Meyer lemon sorbet or the spicy shrimp and creamy Ashland grits with tasso gravy.
Chef Walter Bundy has recently created a kitchen garden at the hotel, where he draws local produce and herbs that inspire the menu and specialty cocktails. Affordable entrees, like the local farm egg capellini served with goat cheese and garden pesto ($19) and locally-harvested oyster mushroom risotto with field arugula ($18) are paired with reasonably priced drinks. (i.e. There are 10 martinis for under $10.)
Rooms are elegant and relaxed with granite counters in the bathrooms, pull-out sofas, and flat-screen TVs. I stayed in a sunny suite, which combined the charm of the 19th century with an original fireplace mantel in the living room with the luxuries of the 21st century, like a sumptuous rain shower in the marble bath.
A premium is put on service in this hotel. I hung out my room service card, requesting coffee between 7:15 and 7:30 and by 7:16 I had my warm coffee in hand.
If you can’t get enough of Tiffany, request a room on the first floor (which also happens to be where the very pretty indoor swimming pool and outdoor deck is located). Every time you walk to the stairs or elevator on this floor, you will be at eye-level with the Tiffany glass panels of the dome, so you can fully appreciate the thick leaded dividers and the swirling glass that Tiffany made famous.
Virginia Museum of Fine Art
The Jefferson Hotel
Andrea Poe is at work on a book, “The Red Thread: Born of My Heart,” a collection of stories told by families united through adoption. In addition to being a mom, Andrea is a freelance journalist and owns a public relations/media consulting firm called Media Branding International. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook, or contact her at email@example.com.
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