In 1919, Judge John Barton Payne, a prominent Virginian who held high offices in law and national politics, donated his entire collection of 50 paintings to the commonwealth of Virginia. Gifts of art to the state from other donors soon followed, and in 1932 Judge Payne proposed a $100,000 challenge grant to build a museum for this burgeoning public art collection. The challenge was accepted by Virginia Governor John Garland Pollard. He not only helped to raise funds from private donors, but also promoted the use of state revenues to support the new museum’s operating expenses. Virginia’s General Assembly approved legislation authorizing the museum on March 27, 1934. With additional funds from the Federal Works Projects Administration, Judge Payne’s dream became a reality.
On January 16, 1936, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was opened to serve as the state’s flagship art museum and as the headquarters for an educational network that would bring the best of world art, past and present, to every corner of the commonwealth.