Personal Treasures: After Decades of Collecting Art, Cynthia and Heywood Fralin Share Paintings in an Exhibit at the Taubman Museum of Art (copy) | Z-non-digital
The art collection began as an adventure donating for two of Roanoke’s best-known philanthropists. But as the years passed, Heywood and Cynthia Fralin’s own treasure grew.
The couple, known for the 19th and early 20th century American art they own, are sharing more than 90 pieces with the public as part of a Taubman Museum of Art exhibition titled Treasures of American Art: The Cynthia & Heywood Fralin Collection.
It has been on display at the Taubman since May 13 and features 64 works by American artists from 1861 to 1975. The Fralins formed the collection for more than a quarter of a century, and this is the first time that all of the works will be on display . together.
“It really started one purchase at a time and included some fun and unexpected moments along the way,” the Fralins wrote in an essay for the exhibition catalog.
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Early in their journey, they nearly missed a painting by Robert Henri at an auction at Christie’s because they were arguing over who would hold the paddle during the auction.
“We were really excited about it, but we almost missed it because neither of us could get the paddle to bid on it. It was about to be closed, and we finally reached for the paddle and lifted it; Lo and behold, we had it,” Heywood Fralin recalled in a July 12 interview.
buy to give
The couple’s first purchases were actually for others rather than themselves. When Heywood Fralin’s brother, Horace, died in 1993, Heywood and Cynthia Fralin arranged for the purchase of four American works of art for his widow, Ann. Later, Ann Fralin offered one to the couple: “The Mary Powell at Newburgh” by Gifford Beal, which can be found in the exhibition.
The first time the Fralins bought a painting for themselves was in 1995. It was a 1916 scene by William Wallace Gilchrist Jr., who painted his family having breakfast.
“I have a recording of all of them except that one because it was the first one, and I didn’t know I was going to buy more,” Heywood Fralin said.
In 2012, the couple donated a collection of American art to the University of Virginia, their alma mater. The school’s rector and board of visitors renamed the museum after them, in honor of the donation.
The couple’s love of American art, their relationships, and their experiences furthered their adventure in collecting. Another key influence: Debra Force, an American art expert.
Force, who has appeared frequently on PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow” and has a gallery on New York’s Upper East Side, specializes in works from the 18th to 20th centuries. She has nearly 40 years of experience in the art world and has been the Fralin’s trusted right hand almost since the beginning of their collecting days. She testified to their passion and love for art.
“Once you have the bug to collect, it never dissipates,” Force wrote in an essay for the exhibition catalog.
The couple have benefited from the expertise and advice of Force for more than twenty years.
“Debra is a very capable person,” Heywood Fralin said. “I realized that very quickly after we met.”
people and placesThe exhibition is divided into six categories.
The Portrait, which addresses issues such as fame and intimacy, includes “Francoise Wearing a Large White Hat” by Mary Stevenson Cassatt, the only American painter to have participated in earlier exhibitions of French Impressionists, as has noted the curator of the collection, Karl Willers.
The Countryside focuses on rural landscapes and features wonders like George Inness’ “Old Mill, Marlborough on the Hudson”, which features perhaps one of the oldest Jewish settlements in America – Gomez Mill House.
The Frontier contains works by artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, a pioneer of American Regionalism, a school of painting that explored images of Native American figures and the heartland of America.
The interior offers an intimate and complex insight into the world of work and leisure. A standout piece in this category is George Luks’ “The Noble Experiment”, a gigantic painting depicting a mix of social classes in a bar in the 1920s, at the height of the Prohibition era.
The coast shows beautiful paintings representing the coastal areas and beaches of New England. This category features works by NC Wyeth – illustrator of Robinson Crusoe and more – his son Andrew and his grandson Jamie, the only living artist in this collection.
The sixth category is The City, displaying depictions of city life – both bustling traffic and peaceful parks.
Georgia O’Keeffe, Fairfield Porter and Grandma Moses are other big names in the show.
In an essay from the exhibition catalog, Taubman’s executive director, Cindy Petersen, wrote that the collection reflects “examples of groundbreaking moments in American art: late 19th-century Impressionism; the figurative realism of a group of artists known as The Eight (also known as the Ashcan school) that emerged in the early 20th century; and various illustrative styles and regionalist schools of art active in the United States from the late 19th century through 1950 and beyond.
The collection focuses on American works painted between 1890 and 1950, but a few paintings fall outside this range. These include the magnificent “Natural Bridge” by David Johnson, painted in 1861, chosen because of its specific subject of Southwest Virginia, and a watercolor by Winslow Homer from around 1879, selected in because of Homer’s importance in the history of American art.
When buying art, the Fralins have three non-negotiable criteria: The work must appeal to both of them; it must be the work of a well-respected American artist; and it must be educational for the community. While three James Madison University students — Haley Gillespie, Madison Treat, and Caitlin Fernandez — enjoyed the exhibit on July 16, it appeared that the Fralins met the latter criteria.
Gillespie and Fernandez, both majoring in graphic design, said they were happy to recognize a few names from their art history classes and identify the places depicted in certain pieces.
“I really like it when I recognize a place like the Roanoke River,” Gillespie said. “I was like, ‘I know that.’ And then, I like all the scenes in the mountains. I think it’s really pretty.
Even after many years of finding and collecting gemstones, the Fralins confess that the most memorable acquisition and the painting they most admire tends to always be the last one they buy, which drives them forward and continue to collect.
“All the works in the collection have meaning for us in one way or another,” they wrote in an essay in the exhibition catalog. “We collected the pieces in the collection primarily for our own enjoyment and enjoyment, but with the idea that they would one day become educational tools for future generations of students interested in American art.”
Fralins’ advice to budding collectors: “…get expert advice and buy works of art that you love, that you want to look at every day and that will continue to excite you.”
The exhibition remains on view until September 4.