Born in Richmond, Benjamin Wigfall grew up in Church Hill, taking art classes at VMFA during his senior year at Armstrong High School. He received two VMFA fellowships in 1949 and 1951 while attending Hampton Institute (now Hampton University).
When VMFA purchased this painting in 1951, Wigfall was only 21, the youngest artist to have a work enter the collection. A prestigious jury, which included artist Stuart Davis, unanimously selected the worked for the first prize in an exhibition of Virginia artists. According to one jurist, the collective feeling was that Wigfall, “possesses very considerable talent and if he continues to progress, should become one of the most interesting of the young Virginia painters.”
Wigall later earned an MFA from Yale School of Design before returning to teach at Hampton in the late 1950s and ‘60s.
Decades later he still recalls Chimneys as one of this favorite works, because it functions s both an abstraction and as illustration of a real place: the smokestacks he observed at sunset on his near daily commute across the old Marshall Street Viaduct (since destroyed) while coming home from school.
He explained, “It was my way of understanding my metaphysical world. there were no images for what I wanted to convey.”
American, born 1930