Early Arrival: Behind That Big Gift to Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

One of the reasons we're intrigued by the large art collections of wealthy couples is the question of how and when these collections might be tapped by philanthropy.

Whether it's considering the $100 million bequest to MoMA waiting in the wings from David Rockefeller, or the potential arts giving of any number of billionaire collectors sitting on vast troves of artlike Steve Cohen, Leon Black, Henry Kravis, S.I. Newhouse, and David Geffenmuseums can be significantly affected by art collections given by living donors or through a bequest. Earlier this year, for example, we wrote about the $500 million bequest of art to LACMA by Jerry Perenchio.

Related: Why This Private Billionaire Stepped Into the Spotlight at LACMA, With $500 Million in Art

No discussion of our golden age of philanthropy is complete without considering the billions of dollars worth of art that is likely to be transferred in this way in coming decades. 

Moreover, in the case of bequests, the fact that an apparent timeline has been established doesn't mean that it will hold. Consider the interesting case of couple James and Frances McGlothlin. Virginia native James McGlothlin is CEO of the United Company of Bristol, which sold its coal mine holdings for $1 billion last decade. The couple began collecting art in the mid-1990s. In 2005, the McGlothlins pledged to bequeath their collection of 19th and 20th century American oil paintings, watercolors, pastels and sculptures valued at the time at $100 million to Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.

Case closed right?

Well, not really.

Now comes news that the couple has donated 73 pieces of artwork in their collectionvalued at more than $200 millionto the Virginia Museum.


It's worth digging into the forces that caused the McGlothlins to shorten the timetable on giving away much of their art, which, it's worth repeating, is worth more than $200 million, now.

For one, the couple has been heavily involved with Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. McGlothlin serves on the board of trustees and Frances served on the board from 1998 to 2008. In addition, the McGlothlins have given more $30 million toward its expansion and have also previously donated two paintings. It's also worth noting that of the 73 works that the couple gave to Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, all but 20 have been exhibited at the museum in shows and many have been loaned to other museums.

I've written before about how certain donors refine or deepen their commitment to a particular outfit or program. On some level, this looks like what has taken place at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and, as McGlothlin puts it, “We thought it would be nice to share it with many more people than just ourselves... we love them all, but we will be so happy to see other people enjoying them.”

The couple's collection, by the way, includes 12 works by John Singer Sargent, five by George Bellows, as well as pieces by Mary Cassatt and James A.M. Whistler.