Virginia Arcadia: The VMFA exhibits visual paeans dedicated to an ancient beauty

Running from February to August, 2021, the Virginia Museum of Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, Virginia just ended its free exhibit Virginia Arcadia: The Natural Bridge in American Art. The museum hosted the dozens of works in Evans Court, focusing on the Natural Bridge. As its name states, it is a naturally-formed rock bridge, dating back some 400 million years. More details directly from the art museum here.

I had the opportunity to visit, where I reflected on the art, its history, and my own visits to the Virginia treasure of Natural Bridge. Walking through the gallery, the calm beauty placed me slowly back below the shadows of that looming rock. If any visual representation can do justice to one of Nature’s grandest creations in this part of the world, it is these paintings—not photographs—that accomplish that feat.

“Arcadia” is one of those words you see only every so often, whose definition could be overlooked, but I was glad to focus on it and look it up; Merriam-Webster notes:

Arcadia is a mountainous, landlocked region of Greece. The Roman poet Virgil recognized that Arcadia’s isolation and bucolic character make it a perfect setting for pastoral poetry, and over the centuries many other writers have agreed. In the poems of Arcadia, naive and ideal innocence is often unaffected by the passions of the larger world. Shepherds play their pipes and sigh with longing for flirtatious nymphs; shepherdesses sing to their flocks; and goat-footed nature gods cavort in the fields and woods. Now English speakers often use arcadia to designate a place of rustic innocence and simple, quiet pleasure. Arcadian can mean “idyllically pastoral” or “idyllically innocent, simple, or untroubled.”

From Merriam-Webster’s definition of “Arcadia”

This talk of Greece, longing, and poetry reminded me of Odysseus’ long journey back from the blood-soaked beaches of the Trojan plain to his own idyllic and pastoral, though mountainous, home. Well, at least it was idyllic when things were set aright upon his return.

Despite all the changes the landscape had endured this past few hundred years, it is reassuring to think on how the areas depicted below have largely gone untouched and, with any luck and wisdom, will remain so long after we are gone.