Christopher Oliver

Christopher Oliver

Graduate Arts & Sciences ’08, ’12

John Toole’s career as a portrait painter flourished after he left the University nearly two centuries ago. In the summer of 2008, art history graduate student Christopher Oliver’s career took off when he directed an exhibition of works by Mr. Toole.

Mr. Toole (1815–1860) was an artist whose works offer a look into the role of a traveling portrait painter in the nineteenth 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 Mr. Oliver, who is now a doctoral candidate 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.,” Mr. Oliver said. Ms. 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 Ms. 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, Mr. Oliver completed his master’s thesis, worked as an assistant on Ms. McInnis’s exhibit, The Landscape of Slavery: The Plantation in American Art, and taught in the art history department.

And Ms. 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,” Ms. McInnis said. “He is an excellent example of why graduate students are vital to the mission of the University.”