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Our History

The history of the Chrysler Museum starts with more than a century of hard work and dedication by many, many residents of Hampton Roads who believed in the civic virtue of art and art education.

Those rewarding efforts moved to an entirely different level 40 years ago, with what is now considered one of strongest and most varied gifts ever made in American history to a single museum by a single person.

The museum under construction in 1932

From 1932, the Museum under construction. Click to enlarge.

Walter Chrysler, Jr., scion of the automotive company founder, donated nearly 10,000 objects as part of an arrangement where the Norfolk Academy of Arts and Sciences became the Chrysler Museum of Art.

The story of his gift goes far beyond the sheer numbers. It’s what his collection contained that remains breathtaking to this day.  A late, legendary New York Times art critic called Chrysler the most underrated American collector of his time, and it’s easy to see why.

As a young man he met the top avant-garde artists of Paris (including Picasso) and was soon purchasing works by them all. He spent his summers in American artist colonies (such as Provincetown, Mass.), and bought works from many future art stars well before they way famous. He was known for buying against fashion, as he had confidence that the special qualities he saw in various pieces would gain acceptance later.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable is the almost impossible-to-define sense of knowing which one to buy; that is, if you can have only one example of a certain style, if you can have only one item from a certain artist, which one would you pick and why? Such judgments are completely subjective, of course, but a lot of art experts believe Walter Chrysler had the knack for getting the right one.

For more details specifically related to Walter Chrysler, Jr., click here. Chrysler’s contributions to this Museum are no doubt monumental, but there are many other people who have made valuable contributions, and the history of the Chrysler is their story, too. And we haven't even gotten to all the good things that have happened here in the four decades after Chrysler's gift.  Continued.