Virginia Bloedel Wright, 1929-2020, brought the Broken Obelisk to the UW and funded countless shows at the Henry Art Gallery.
Considered one of the top art collectors in America, Virginia Bloedel Wright amassed an unparalleled archive of 20th-century art alongside her husband, Bagley. Thanks to their generosity and vision, these works will stay in Seattle—and at the UW—for the long haul.
Wright, who was born in Seattle in 1929 and died Feb. 18 of Hodgkin lymphoma, came from a timber empire and grew up drawing and painting in Vancouver, B.C. After a spell at the University of British Columbia, she went east to study at Barnard, the tightknit women’s college in Manhattan. It was there that she learned about a new kind of art. “I loved the Renaissance, and I did not like contemporary art,” Wright recalled in 2014. But a friend persuaded her to study under Meyer Schapiro, an inventive art historian of the day, and that changed everything. “The minute that I took those classes,” she said, “I was a total convert.”
After college, she took a job at a New York art gallery and met future husband Bagley Wright (who died in 2011). As abstract expressionism rippled through the postwar art world, painters sought to convey emotion with bold, colorful works that could appear as chaotic or confusing at first glance. Wright, who understood this new wave before the general public, purchased a canvas by Mark Rothko for $1,000. (Rothko’s “multiform” paintings, which are lined with horizontal blocks of cloudy color, now sell for millions.) Wright eventually donated that piece—and many others by towering figures in modern art—to the Seattle Art Museum.
As for the UW, we have Wright to thank for the eye-catching Broken Obelisk in Red Square, which her foundation commissioned in 1971, along with countless contributions to the Henry Art Gallery, the Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center and the Department of Bioegineering. The Seattle Art Museum will honor Wright with its major fall exhibit, “City of Tomorrow: Jinny Wright and the Art that Shaped Seattle.” It runs Oct. 15, 2020-Jan. 10, 2021.