Pictures at His Own Exhibition

July 28, 2008 — John Toole's career as a portrait painter flourished after he left the University of Virginia nearly two centuries ago. Now, art history graduate student Christopher Oliver's career is taking off as he directs an exhibition of works by Toole, on view at the University of Virginia Art Museum until Aug. 3.

Toole (1815–1860) was an artist whose works offer a look in to the role of a traveling portrait painter in the 19th century. The exhibition is drawn from more than 40 paintings and drawings that comprise the University's collection.

U.Va. was the obvious choice for Oliver, who is studying American art history. The art history department's national reputation grew after its merger with architecture in 2005, creating one of the largest programs for American art history in the country.

"I came to work with Maurie McInnis [associate professor in the McIntire Department of Art] at U.Va.," Oliver said. McInnis's research looks at how history and culture are reflected in art and vice versa.

"The University's art history program focuses on more than just traditional art history with professors like McInnis," he said. Students study such cultural artifacts as furniture and even culinary history as part of America's aesthetic legacy.

In the midst of managing the Toole exhibit, Oliver is completing his master's thesis, worked as an assistant on McInnis' exhibit, "The Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art," and is teaching in the art history department.

McInnis is pleased with her student's progress. "So here is a student who is simultaneously a great student and teacher, and is bringing the teaching and research mission of the University to the public through his work on exhibitions," McInnis said. "He is an excellent example of why graduate students are vital to the mission of the University."