“The Natural bridge, the most sublime of Nature’s works … so beautiful an arch, so elevated, so light, and springing as it were up to heaven, the rapture of the spectator is really indescribable!” — Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia
Happy summer! As COVID restrictions ease, it feels wonderful to begin planning cultural outings again. How about a road trip to the VMFA in Richmond? A new exhbit features one of the Shenandoah Valley’s most beautiful and historic attractions – The Natural Bridge. Richmond is an easy drive from Winchester; it takes less than three hours to our capital city, The Museum offers several dining options and a beautiful outdoor area with seating if you choose to bring a picnic. Just think, you can go to Richmond to learn more about the Shenandoah Valley!
Virginia Arcadia: The Natural Bridge in American Art examines one of the most frequently depicted sites in American 19th-century landscape painting. It was one of the most frequently depicted and described American natural attractions of the 19th century, likely only surpassed by Niagara Falls.
Natural wonder. National beauty.
Situated in the Shenandoah Valley, within the evocatively named Rockbridge County, the Natural Bridge formed gradually as the waters of Cedar Creek caused erosion, resulting in an arched formation measuring 215 feet high and 90 feet wide. In 1774 Thomas Jefferson purchased the site from King George III as part of a 150-acre tract of land. The land remained in the Jefferson family for seven years after his death in 1826. The arch quickly became one of the most reproduced and easily recognizable natural wonders. This painting is on exhibit at the VMFA through August 1.
Jefferson’s legacy. Valley treasure.
The Arcadia exhibit is arranged in sections. In Jefferson’s home, Monticello, paintings of the bridge hang on either side of a window with the mountains in the background. The exhibit recreates this display.
The 21st century has seen rekindled interest in the subject. In September of 2016, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that a 1,500-acre tract of land surrounding the Natural Bridge in Rockbridge County would be designated as the Commonwealth’s newest state park. Citing that the “historical and geographical significance of Natural Bridge is beyond question,” the creation of a Natural Bridge State Park is the realization of Jefferson’s long-delayed vision.
If you want to see the real bridge that inspired so many works of art, there are accomodations within walking distance of Virginia’s natural wonder. Visit the Natural Bridge Historic Hotel and Conference Center for information on special packages and the (very) short hike to the bridge itself.
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