Faberge, Munch, and Johns: A Day at VMFA

This past weekend, I marveled at the beauty and sophistication of Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ renowned Fabergé and Russian Decorative Arts collection, as well as the limited time Jasper Johns and Edvard Munch: Love, Loss, and the Cycle of Life exhibit.

Imperial Tsarevich Easter Egg, 1912. Photo credit: Amy Kaplan.

Russian Decorative Arts. Before 1899-1908. Photo credit: Amy Kaplan.

The Fabergé exhibit features five Imperial Easter eggs (of only 52 in the world), as well as countless other pieces of Peter Carl Fabergé’s work, including pendants, parasol handles, and beautifully adorned boxes. Each of the five eggs is displayed in its own glass box atop a pillar, with the “surprise” in the egg sitting next to it. Presented by Tsar Nicholas II to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in 1912, the Imperial Tsarevich egg was my favorite on display. The six sections of lapis lazuli stone are strategically covered by the gold detailing, giving the illusion that the egg is made of a single piece of stone.  Double-headed eagles are another adornment, which served as a symbol of imperial Russia.  The exhibit also features iPads with the new Fabergé at VMFA app, allowing museum visitors to create their own decorative eggs. Larger touchscreens allow visitors to learn more about each Imperial egg on display.  Peter Carl Fabergé was born in 1846 in St. Petersburg, Russia. Through travel and apprenticeship, Fabergé became a well-known jeweler. VMFA is the only American art museum currently showing five galleries of Fabergé and other Russian art, making it the largest art museum collection outside of Russia. The exhibit is informative and interactive, but most of all beautiful.  

The feature exhibit, Munch and Johns, features a distinct relationship between two artists. Munch (1863-1944) was an influential Norwegian artist and a pioneer of the Expressionist movement. Johns, who was born over 67 years after Munch, is an abstract painter turned Expressionist. His career began as a pop artist in the 1960s, transitioned into a series of crosshatched paintings in the 1970s, and took a sharp turn into self-referential works modeled after Munch in the 1980s.

Jasper Johns, Daners on a Plane. 1980. Photo credit: Amy Kaplan.

As I walked into the exhibit, I was greeted with walls covered in huge crosshatched paintings, each inspired by a glimpse of the pattern on a passing car. Johns, in reference to his fascination with this abstract art form, noted (in a 1977 book by Michael Crichton), “It had all the qualities that interest me- literalness, repetitiveness, an obsessive quality, order with dumbness, and the possibility of complete lack of meaning.”  This quote, seen on the wall in the exhibit, provides context for his repeated crosshatched works.

Jasper Johns, Savarin. 1981. Photo credit: Amy Kaplan.

Other paintings showed connections between the two painters, such as the armprint at the bottom of one of John’s many “Savarin” paintings, which is clearly inspired by an arm at the bottom of a self-portrait of Munch’s.

Both Munch and Johns also have works titled Between the Clock and the Bed. In Munch’s work, a self-portrait, there is a corner of a bed which is a painting of his actual bedspread. Johns’ work of the same name is a crosshatched piece bearing a similar pattern to the one of the bedspread in Munch’s painting.  For the first time in two decades, Johns’ full Seasons and Between the Clock and the Bed collections are displayed together at VMFA.  This exhibit offered a new perspective with the display by drawing parallels between two very different artists.  

Edvard Munch, Self Portrait. 1895. Photo credit: Google Art Project via Wikimedia Commons.

I had a wonderful experience at the VMFA, and I would encourage anyone who appreciates one-of-a-kind art to visit the Fabergé exhibit. Each piece, though there are 280 in the exhibit, is beautifully detailed. The Jasper and Munch collection isn’t one you’ll want to miss, and it is only on display until February 20.  Viewing the artists’ work separately would be interesting in themselves, but comparing them provides a whole new level of thought and consideration.


About the author

Amy is a junior at Collegiate.