Yesterday, Alice Walton announced another addition to Cristal Bridges’ permanent collection. “Autumn Landscape” by Thomas Moran was bought by the previous owner, Bernice Jones, in an estate sale in Chicago for decorating her husband’s office. She didn’t know who the painter was when she bought it and was apparently was attracted by the eastern Pennsylvania valley scene where expansive rolling hills are always spectacular in autumn. From a recently trip to Western Pennsylvania, I would guess it could be from Bethlehem or Easton area.
From the picture shown in their website, it is a great example of Hudson River school, yet it is probably a more moderated and restrained work by Moran, possibly dated to his early career. In his large scale paintings of American West dated 1870’s, the sky and the rocks convey such brutal force that can hardly be rationalized or imagined in the east coast. Although Jones only paid $500 for the “unknown” painting (a great bargain for a canvas of 40 inches tall and 63.5 inches even if it were not by Moran), the purchase price by Crystal Bridges has not been disclosed.
At the time when New York art institutes such as the Brooklyn Museum, Guggenheim and the Met all cut their staff, Crystal Bridges of American Art is quietly growing bigger, assembling some of the best American works in a town of approximately 20,000 people. (The metro region has about 400,000.) The Met still proudly hangs Asher Durand’s famous “Kindred Spirits” in their American Wing, but it will be returned to Bentonville, AR before the completion of American Wing in 2011. Walton defended the question of amassing art collection in Northern Arkansas by saying “Why not? After all, this is the heartland of America.” But would people fly to the heartland? Without visitors, those pictures are not much different from Ikea wall art except with higher price tags.