Philadelphians raised $68 million to keep a Thomas Eakins masterpiece depicting an early surgery in Philadelphia. It was done to block the sale to the Walton-financed Crystal Bridges Museum under construction in Bentonville, in conjunction with the National Gallery in Washington. The response from Crystal Bridges:
"We are disappointed that Eakins' 'Gross Clinic' will not be coming to the nation's capital or America's heartland. However, we are pleased for the city of Philadelphia."
The episode has already occasioned potshots at Arkansas as well as the Waltons. More elitism here:
Charles Cushing, a Philadelphia artist who is painting a replica of "The Gross Clinic," said relocation of the work to Bentonville would make the city feel like "our heart is being ripped out."
Cushing peddled $2 buttons protesting the sale to museum visitors. He described Crystal Bridges as Walton's "vanity museum."
In interviews on Sunday, Cushing and other artists discussed Walton in the same sentence as robber barons of the past, rich Americans who made off with great European works now featured in many U.S. galleries.
"If someone cares about a painting, we try to keep those paintings," said Stanley Bielen, an instructor at the academy. "Is Paris going to give up the Mona Lisa if a robber baron wants it?"
This story is likely to be replayed as the Waltons assemble their collection of American art. We want to add that great fortunes have been used for eons to assemble great art collections. When the treasures are bought fairly in the open market -- as opposed to plundered by colonial adventurers -- where's the beef? We are happy at the prospect of a great museum in Arkansas and mostly amused by the notion that there's something culturally jarring about the very idea. That said, we don't think the legislature needed to provide welfare in the form of a sales tax exemption to one of the world's greatest fortunes to get the job done. It's an exemption enjoyed by no other museum in Arkansas.