Situated prominently at the eastern end of The Hague—not the city in the Netherlands, but a crescent-shaped inlet that feeds into the Elizabeth River as it passes through Norfolk, Virginia—the Chrysler Museum of Art’s newly renovated and expanded Italianate pile opened to the public again last week after 17 months of construction. Local firm H&A Architects designed identical, two-story porticoed gallery wings that flank the main entrance and added 10,000 square feet of exhibition space for American and European painting and sculpture and the museum’s renowned glass collection. The addition—which brings the total programmable space to 220,000 square feet—mimics the classical style of the original 1933 structure and a 1989 building project that unified the exteriors by removing asymmetrical and Brutalist additions completed in 1965 and 1974. “We wanted to maintain the balanced, palazzo house quality of the exterior,” explains museum director Bill Hennessey.
While the architecture may be conservative, not much else about the institution is, starting with its namesake, Walter Chrysler, Jr. The eldest son of the auto tycoon, Chrysler began amassing what would become a world-class art collection while still a student at Dartmouth in the early 1930s. Controversial dealings would eventually run the scion out of New York City, where he once served as the first chairman of the fledgling Museum of Modern Art’s library committee, and later the artists’ colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he maintained a museum in a former church building during the 1960s.