Across Time: Robinson House, Its Land and People

Time Period
1825 to 1860
1861 to 1876
1877 to 1924
1925 to Today
Media Type
Art & Architecture
Civil War
Elizabeth L. O’Leary

On February 28, 2019, Elizabeth L. O’Leary delivered the Banner Lecture, “Across Time: Robinson House, Its Land and People.”

What is that building? Just a short stroll from the Virginia Museum of History & Culture stands a tall antebellum structure with a soaring pyramidal belvedere. Robinson House, built about 1828 and expanded in the nineteenth century (and again just last year), re-opened to the public in late January 2019 after an extensive renovation and expansion. Owned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, this intriguing structure is now home to a regional tourism center and an exhibition about its rich and complex history. In this lecture, project curator and author Elizabeth O’Leary shares the multilayered story of Robinson House, its land and inhabitants—including native peoples and English colonists; an elite antebellum family and the enslaved people who labored for and sometimes escaped them; the nation’s best-known Confederate veterans’ home, formed from a spirit of reconciliation between North and South; the establishment of “Battle Abbey” and other significant institutions; an innovative scientific research institute; and the commonwealth’s flagship art museum.

An art historian who resides in Richmond, Dr. O’Leary is a former associate curator of American art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. She was lead author of American Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, written with curatorial colleagues. Her other books include From Morning to Night: Domestic Service in Maymont House and the Gilded Age South; At Beck and Call: The Representation of Domestic Servants in Nineteenth-Century American Painting; and the companion to the Robinson house exhibition, opening in late January 2019, Across Time: The History of the Grounds of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

This program is presented in partnership with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The content and opinions expressed in these presentations are solely those of the speaker and not necessarily of the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

Want to listen to an audio-only version of this lecture? Listen now on Soundcloud.