The Art of the Mural
Last week Richmond, Virginia, welcomed back Art Whino for the 2013 edition of the Richmond Mural Project. In 2012, Art Whino brought twelve of the top mural artists from around the world to “unleash their creativity” on Richmond’s art district. The 2013 Richmond Mural Project wants to “establish Richmond as a landmark destination for internationally recognized murals and [to] create exposure for the city, establishing it as a premier art destination.”
I spent the past year enjoying these wonderful murals. It made me reflect on the parallels between the Richmond mural project and the Confederate Memorial Association’s (CMA) interest in bringing large scale art and international artists to Richmond.
What many people don’t know is that Richmonders invited an internationally-known artist to the city one hundred years ago. He painted a series of murals in Richmond that were considered his crowning achievement. The Memorial Military Murals by Charles Hoffbauer are not only a Richmond treasure but also an American treasure. They are among the most important paintings of the American Civil War, and are one of the few large-scale public art on display along with the cycloramas at Gettysburg and Grant Park in Atlanta.
Hoffbauer was born in Paris in 1875, and by 1906 he was an accomplished artist and major prizewinner at the Paris Salon. He studied under the most famous French artists of the day and achieved widespread recognition for his work, even before he received his commission from the CMA.
The CMA commissioned Hoffbauer to come to Richmond and create his murals, which he started in 1913. The Virginia Historical Society (VHS) merged with the CMA in 1946. (This is a interesting story. You can get the full history here.)
I have worked at the VHS for five years, and I have been lucky to see these spectacular murals on display every day. For a history enthusiast, it is amazing to observe how one hundred years later another organization is bringing artists to Richmond from across the world to paint murals. Richmond is also lucky that the Hoffbauer murals are being conserved so that their history and the city’s history will be available for future generations.
Time is not the only difference between Hoffbauer and the 2013 Richmond muralists. The medium is different. Hoffbauer’s murals were painted on canvas inside a building, while the 2013 Richmond muralists are painting theirs on the outside of buildings. And unlike Hoffbauer, who did not have the freedom to choose the topic of his murals (even though he ended up drastically changing his Winter mural after his experiences in World War I), the 2013 Richmond muralists are able to choose their own subjects and design.
But, a century does not diminish the similarity of the love for art as a vehicle for conversation. The 2013 Richmond Mural Project wants the paintings to “serve as positive catalysts for change.” I challenge myself and those who live in Richmond or who visit here to seek out all the murals in this city…including Hoffbauer’s work at the VHS. Then, bring on the conversation!
Elaine Hagy is the senior grants officer for the Virginia Historical Society. She is always up for a good conversation.