A Story of Portraits

Focusing on portraits in current exhibition “It’s All Relative: Richmond Families (1616-2016)” the Valentine takes a look at the stories behind various portraits in our collection..

Before there were selfie sticks and iPhones there were painted portraits.  Portraits of Richmonders in the Valentine’s collection span across generations as well as across cultures. Rich or poor, black or white, the legacy left behind through a portrait is sentimental.

The Valentine’s current exhibition, It’s All Relative: Richmond Families (1616-2016) highlights the importance of legacy and family. The portraits in the exhibition represent various families units and constructs throughout Richmond history.

Portraits began as a symbol of status in Western culture. If one was able to have their portrait painted it meant they as an individual or their family held prominence. In Europe, it was mainly nobility who could afford to commission portraits. The United States however did not have a nobility class, so wealthy Americans took it upon themselves to mimic their European counterparts and create portraits as a sign of family prosperity.

The ideal that a portrait maintains a family’s legacy continues throughout Richmond’s history. Portraits began to cross generations of Richmond families and the idea of preserving one’s tradition crossed societal boundaries as well. No longer were portraits reserved for wealthy white landowners, but for single mothers, African American couples, lower class families, and runaway lovers.

Over the next few weeks the Valentine will explore the ever-transforming family constructs that have come to define the Richmond community.

Various portraits and paintings are here in our General Collection Storage.


Portrait of seven sons of Mann S. Valentine II (3 seated, 4 standing), with portraits of Mann S. Valentine II, his first wife, and daughter (Mary Valentine Mosely) in background.
c. 1905
The Valentine

Joseph Fall
PR & Marketing Intern
The Valentine