VCU’s Anderson Gallery was established through a monetary gift given to the Richmond Professional Institute (RPI) in 1930 by Colonel Abraham Archibald Anderson (1847-1940). Colonel Anderson, a gentleman portrait artist who founded the American Art Association in 1890, believed that Richmond would develop, with support, a thriving art community:
“I vision a wonderful future for Richmond as an art center; the cities of the country will soon look to her with pride. If in my small way, by word or work, I can help Richmond to achieve this noble result, I shall consider that I have not lived in vain.”
In support of this vision, Colonel Anderson bestowed $10,000 to RPI to establish an art gallery. With his initial donation, and an additional $24,000 given by the citizens of Richmond, RPI undertook the renovation of the Ginter Mansion stable. RPI had acquired the Ginter Mansion, its stable, and property on Franklin Street years earlier, but the stable was unused. The administration of RPI, in consultation with Col. Anderson, decided to turn the stable building into an art gallery and library.
Initially, the only change made to the exterior of the building was the installation of front doors. Inside, the second-floor hayloft, which had high ceilings, was converted into gallery space, while first floor became the library. The A.A. Anderson Gallery of Art opened to the public in 1931, and its inaugural exhibition featured Colonel Anderson’s paintings. Throughout the 1930’s, the Gallery maintained a full exhibition schedule and served as Richmond’s only art exhibition facility until the VMFA opened in 1936.
Over time, several major additions changed the facade and structure of the building. In 1939, a third floor was added for use as art studios and, in 1947, the fourth floor was built.
Following the end of World War II, the number of RPI students increased dramatically and the A.A. Anderson Gallery of Art began to function primarily as a library to accommodate the school’s burgeoning population. By the mid 1940’s, it had come to be known simply as the Anderson Building. The Anderson Building served as RPI’s, and subsequently VCU’s, main academic library until 1970, when the James Branch Cabell Library building was opened.
When the library’s holdings were transferred to the new Cabell building in 1970, the School of the Arts faculty persuaded VCU to reinstate the Anderson Building as the University’s museum and gallery. True to Colonel Anderson’s original intention, the structure at 907 1/2 West Franklin was renamed the Anderson Gallery and has since served as VCU’s main exhibition facility and museum.