In his first official reception since arriving in Washington in February as France’s ambassador to the United States, François Delattre celebrated longtime ties between his country and our region—as well as a new Picasso exhibit that’s visiting Richmond on its American tour this spring.
“I’m so pleased our first reception is dedicated to the arts and to France’s longstanding friendship with Virginia,” Delattre told the guests at his official residence in DC’s Kalorama neighborhood. Delattre was previously ambassador to Canada and returns to Washington after serving as communications director for the French Embassy here from 1998 to 2002.
“Virginia is famous for its hospitality. Of course, Virginia and its hospitality would be nothing if not for the French,” joked Virginia Museum of Fine Arts director Alex Nyerges, referring to the French role in the decisive Revolutionary War battle at Yorktown.
The exhibit, “Picasso: Masterpieces From the Musée National Picasso, Paris,” is on display at the VMFA through May 15. The show, organized by the Musée National Picasso, Paris, which is currently under construction, includes 176 pieces that Picasso kept in his personal collection as representations of his growth and legacy in addition to 45 photographs either of the artist or taken by him. After its stint in Virginia, the exhibit continues on a seven-city international tour.
“Picasso engaged in dialogue with the Old Masters, with history, and with us,” Delattre said, noting that Picasso had been able to curate his own retrospective by holding onto the works that are part of the show rather than selling them.
VMFA landed the exhibit after another East Coast venue for the show fell through. John Buchanan, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and a longtime friend of Nyerges, called and asked if the Virginia museum might be able to step in. Buchanan told Nyerges he’d have to decide within 24 hours if VMFA could take on the extensive show, but Nyerges immediately told Buchanan not to approach any other institutions.
“This is a coup for Richmond,” Nyerges says.
VMFA has the ninth-largest encyclopedic art collection in the United States, meaning its collections span multiple countries and periods rather than focusing on a single kind of art. Last year the museum opened a major new wing designed by Rick Mather that added 165,000 square feet of space. But the Richmond museum remains somewhat out of the way for many in our region, so it needs marquee exhibitions—such as the Picasso show, upcoming exhibits of jewelry and eggs by Fabergé, and Egyptian art from the British Museum—to draw visitors.
Staging the show was no minor undertaking, given travel and how many pieces are involved, Nyerges says, but it was “a small price to pay for a priceless opportunity.”