In 1998, Jeff Harrison took a long, hard look at the Chrysler Museum of Art's gallery of neoclassical sculpture and saw red – deep, sumptuous red. "At the time, the museum walls were painted light gray, light blue and light green. They were to serve as neutral foils for the art and the architecture of the building," says Harrison, the Chrysler's chief curator. "We wanted to refresh the sculpture gallery, and one remarkably easy – yet dramatic – way was to introduce a radically different wall color."
Red had historical precedent, given that many 18th century sculpture galleries were painted that color, says Harrison. But history was far from his only guide when he began choosing colors for the rest of the galleries in the museum, which features the highly respected collection of American and European art amassed by auto heir Walter P. Chrysler Jr.
"When we repainted our Italian Renaissance gallery, we did not use red, which is historically used in Renaissance galleries," says Harrison. "The palettes of the paintings in the room were heavily weighted toward red, and I wanted a color that would serve as a chromatic opposite, so I went for dark green. The Old Masters paintings, which can be pretty dark, regain their lightness against the dark wall."
Over the next seven years, Harrison and his team worked gallery by gallery, converting the neutral palette into one that featured rich blue, saturated rose, electric teal and deep brown – each color chosen for its "sympathetic and dramatic effect" with the art. Thanks in part to advertising executives Bob Morrison and Steve Tobin of Virginia Beach-based ad agency Cortani, Morrison & Tobin, these colors are now part of the Sherwin-Williams line of Chrysler Museum Colors. When Morrison's wife saw the museum's newly painted walls for the first time, she said she wanted the colors for her own home – and the ad men, who previously had done work for the museum, saw the possibility of a partnership between the Chrysler Museum and Sherwin-Williams.
"We matched all the colors from the museum walls and sent them to our Color Marketing and Design department in Cleveland," says Jim Faucette, Norfolk district manager for Sherwin-Williams.
"They created a color card that is actually a piece of art – it's beautiful."