A deep dive into virtual museums

3 minute read
Illustrated letter by Maxfield Parrish to his cousin Henry Bancroft. (Image courtesy Delaware Art Museum.)
Illustrated letter by Maxfield Parrish to his cousin Henry Bancroft. (Image courtesy Delaware Art Museum.)

A cascade of arts offerings is tumbling onto our computers. Museums, galleries, and arts institutions are searching their collections—and their civic consciousness—for new ways to connect.

Some of these visuals are due to developing technologies and the increasing techno-proficiency of art professionals. But some are archived and now available because of a prescient swell over the past decade in digitization grants from funders like the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) and the Humanities (NEH).

As these resources have intensified, it’s become easier to access art in museums. So adjunct to this electronic groundswell, here’s a “curated” look at some hidden digital treasures in our region.

Delaware Art Museum

The Delaware Art Museum has always been both a scholarly and community resource, and thanks to digitization, you can now see some fascinating artist correspondence.

The Bancroft Collection of Pre-Raphaelite Art contains 95 letters of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the seminal figure of that iconoclastic 19th-century British art movement. Many were written to Fanny Cornforth, his model for paintings like Found (in the digitized collection). Curator Margaretta Frederick notes that “Cornforth’s features changed the emotional tenor of Rossetti’s work,” and some of the letters feature his “elephant” sketches, Rossetti’s pet name for this favored model. And since April is National Poetry Month, here are 34 Rossetti poetry manuscripts. All these documents are transcribed, as it’s challenging to read his handwritten scrawl.

You can also see the digitized correspondence of Maxfield Parrish, a Bancroft cousin. His letters—written as a teenager traveling in Europe for the first time—are filled with whimsical anecdotes and sketches. Curator Heather Campbell Coyle notes that even in these early casual documents, “Parrish is already Parrish.” And Museum librarian and archivist Rachael DiEleuterio has assembled an online Parrish letters exhibition with descriptive text as “a good place to start to set these charming letters into context.”

ante Gabriel Rossetti, manuscript of sonnet “Found.” (Image courtesy of Delaware Art Museum.)
ante Gabriel Rossetti, manuscript of sonnet “Found.” (Image courtesy of Delaware Art Museum.)

Brandywine River Museum

Founded to preserve the art of the Wyeth family, the artworks exhibited in a beautifully restored Chadds Ford mill are now available virtually. But here’s a closer look at two other offerings.

Just before closure, the museum opened Votes for Women: A Visual History (scheduled through September 27), which focused on the women’s suffrage centennial. But curators and staff were able to create a series of “Virtual Votes for Women Tours,” mini-videos focused on varying themes in this exhibition filled with art, film, photography, period clothing, and surprising ephemera. Varying in length, the talks are now available on YouTube. The Museum launches a new one every Wednesday on its Instagram and Facebook pages, with YouTube access soon after.

The museum has also launched Brandywine at Home, a website for virtual visitors who are not social media users. Each week it’s updated with gallery tours and talks about specific artists or works, along with art activities using materials people may have at hand.

Art Daily

Emerge from digital archives to take a sweeping look at the art world in the international online journal Art Daily. Published in Mexico City, it’s an intriguing source of visual arts that now includes other cultural news, auction results, and profiles of visual artists and creatives in general. Click the brief paragraphs for more information, and (though there is advertising) the reliable content is filled with images and an interesting short video. Available for free, it’s a great way to start your visual day—or end it.

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