Framing Richmond’s History

At a museum with a history of over 100 years, some things are bound to get lost in the shuffle. Standards of documentation and care certainly have evolved since the days of the old museum in the Wickham House, which officially opened in 1898. In the past, a painting may have been removed from its original frame when going out for conservation only to return and remain separate. With time, new staff arrive unaware of these separations, or labels fall off; any identifying information that remains is scant at best.

As a summer intern at the Valentine, part of my time has been spent attempting to document and reunite these long lost frames. The documentation process includes taking photographs and measurements in order to make comparisons with the paintings that we have in storage. On one of my first days photographing frames, I had to request the assistance of our curator, David Voelkel, as this particular frame was rather cumbersome for one person to handle.

 Frame 2

It was during this time that David mentioned to me that the frame appeared familiar to him given the distinctive, grape ornamentation, and he suggested that I examine old photographs of the Wickham House that are held in our archives.  Sure enough the file containing photographs of the Virginia Room from 1898 to 1930 held the answer.

Virginia RoomPainting

In this photograph of the Virginia Room circa 1915, a landscape painting appears in a frame with similar, grape-like ornamentation.  The painting is identified as View of Richmond and the James, Looking East from Libby Hill painted by an unknown artist circa 1810. An additional review of my documentation revealed that the measurements of the painting are approximately the same as the measurements of the rabbet—the recessed area on the backside of the frame which supports the painting—making this a perfect match.

Although much about the painting is unknown, it was included in Alexander W. Weddell’s book, Richmond, Virginia, in Old Prints, 1737-1887, which also can be found in our archives. Weddell, the original owner of Richmond’s Virginia House, published the book in 1932 and made no reference to the painting’s frame.

Regardless of its mysterious background, the painting (sans original frame) will be included in the upcoming recreation of the Virginia Room given its documented presence as seen in the 1915 photograph from our archives. View of Richmond and the James and several other paintings with similar histories will be featured in a salon-style hang—a floor to ceiling, stacked hang that was popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries—on the second floor of the Wickham House. For more information about the exhibition, which is set to open to the public on August 16th, visit the Richmond Times-Dispatch article Valentine Richmond History Center plans new exhibit.

Richmond From Libby HillCreating History

Jody Green
Collections Intern
Valentine Richmond History Center