260 Norfolk, VA: Chrysler

The painting hung in a building that looked a little like the one in Hopper's painting. The Chrysler Museum was monolithic and gray, an Italianate-style structure facing the picturesque Hague Inlet of the Elizabeth River. From its huge atrium lobby with a skylight above it, huge sandstone stairs led up to the galleries.

The Chrysler grew from a female seminary dedicated to the support of art. The Museum set sail in 1971 when automobile heir and art collector Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. presented the city of Norfolk with his collection. John Russell in the New York Times wrote, "It would be difficult to spend time in the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Va., and not come away convinced that the most underrated American art collector of the past 50 years and more was the late Walter P. Chrysler, Jr." He added, "Any museum in the world would kill for these [works]" and the museum was "one of the pleasantest places in the United States to while away the day.

"People thought of him [Chrysler] as an accumulator [but] [A]mong the paintings of Edward Hopper, for instance, he chose one that is this critic's all-time favorite. It is a metropolitan scene in which well-kept and heavily becolumned New York house fronts bear down upon the observer like so many emblems of respectability. But, like a gifted storyteller, Hopper leaves us to guess at the identity, and the purpose, of the nunlike nanny in her bight blue uniform who hurries along with an inhabited pram in the lower left corner. Is she late for afternoon tea? Or is this a kidnap attempt, with a co-conspirator around the corner?"

Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., also a theater producer (including The Strong Are Lonely, whose title could describe Hopper's paintings and characters), was born 1909 in Iowa, but grew up on a Long Island estate with a view of the Manhattan skyline characterized by the landmark building named for his father. The older Chrysler said about art, "Son, remember that fundamentally they and all things like them must belong to everyone, and the best of them will become public property in museums throughout the country." Chrysler Junior said, "Collecting has always been in my blood." While a 14-year-old at prep school, he purchased his first painting--a Renoir watercolor nude. A dorm master considered the piece lewd and destroyed it.

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