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The collection

What we know, and what we don’t but are guessing about anyway.



Since the revelation of the first eight paintings that would be included in the Crystal Bridges collection in 2005 (see main article), nine more acquisitions have been made public. (The collection will include paintings, works on paper and three-dimensional art.)

The most recent acquisition to go public was Dennis Miller Bunker's 1887 Portrait of Anne Page, which went on exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum when it reopened the first week in May. The oil was sold at auction in December 2004 for $3.2 million, almost certainly to Alice Walton, though it's possible she bought it from that buyer. John Singer Sargent called Bunker, who died at the tender age of 29, the most gifted young American painter of his time.

In April, the museum announced it had bought Thomas Eakins' 1875 Portrait of Professor Benjamin H. Rand, and six 18th century portraits of the Levy-Franks family of New York City. Eakins is one of America's greatest painters; the portrait was bought from Jefferson Medical University in Philadelphia after Walton and the National Gallery of Art failed in their attempt to jointly by Eakins' famous “The Gross Clinic” for $68 million.

The Levy-Franks portraits are “the most extensive surviving group of Colonial American portraiture,” the museum said in its announcement. They are attributed to Gerardus Duyckinck and were bought from the Jewish Historical Society; the earliest portrait dates to 1720. They are now on exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York. Bought privately, no purchase prices were available.

In 2006, the museum revealed its acquisition of Gilbert Stuart's venerable George Washington (the Constable-Hamilton portrait) by way of announcing its loan to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Stuart, who painted all the famous people of his time, completed the portrait in 1790. Like Kindred Spirits, it was sold by the New York Public Library; Walton bought the 44-by-36-inch oil it at auction in 2005 for $8.1 million. “Kindred Spirits” is on exhibit at the National Gallery.

A painting she has not made public, but which is likely to be part of the collection — it appears in an architectural mock-up of one of the galleries on Crystal Bridges website — is Fairfield Porter's October Interior, painted in 1963 and so the most modern of the collection. Porter was a realist at the time Abstract Expressionism was taking center stage; the painting is the largest known so far in the collection at 4 feet 6 inches by 6 feet. The painting was bought for $988,000 at Sotheby's auction in December 2004 of the rich 19th and 20th century American art collection of Rita and Danial Fraad, one of the greatest in private hands. The website also shows what looks like an early Alexander Stirling Calder bronze.

Other works known to be in the collection — Charles Bird King's Ottoe Half Chief, Husband of Eagle of Delight (1821-22) and Winslow Homer's letter-sized Spring — were also sold at the auction, the King, an 18-by-14½ inch oil, for $1.35 million, a record for the artist at auction, and the Homer, an 11¼-by-8¾ watercolor on paper, for $2 million. King was born in Rhode Island and is best known for his paintings of Native Americans and other portraits. Homer is another of America's greats, his work in watercolor nearly unparalleled.

According to reports on the auction, the same bidder who bought Ottoe Half Chief also bought King's Wai-Kee-Chai, Sanky Chief, Crouching Eagle, for $792,000, so that should be in the Crystal Bridges collection as well.

It's been reported, though not confirmed, that Walton bought George Bellows' The Knock Out, which sold for $5 million at Sotheby's 2004 auction. The 21¾-by-28- inch pastel and ink on paper was said to be the prize of the Fraads' collection.

And now to play Crystal Bridges Crystal Ball, a guessing game of what other works might be in the collection, based on reporting on New York auctions and guesses about works Alice Walton might want to include in her museum that have recently become available.

The Indian and the Lily. This 1887 painting by George de Forest Brush was sold for $4.8 million from the collection of the Pierre Hotel during Sotheby's Dec. 1, 2004, auction at which other Crystal Bridges works were sold. Why this painting? According to the Sotheby's catalogue, the painting is “one of Brush's most renowned Indian paintings and reveals the artist's unique methodology, which distinguishes his work from that of his fellow artists.” In other words, as Christie's Americas president Marc Porter would put it, an A plus Brush.

Calla Lilies with Red Anemone.” Georgia O'Keefe painted “Calla Lilies” in 1928, and it sold at a Christie's auction on May 23, 2001, for $6.16 million, a record for O'Keefe at auction. Christie's had put an estimate of $2.5 million to $3.5 million. A buyer — on the phone — was clearly determined to have it. Why “Calla Lilies”? It's beautiful and it's less sexy than many of O'Keefe's vulvar masterpieces, which may make it more palatable to a Bentonville audience. (Which is not to say that Walton is a prudish collector. Workman said she “appreciates challenging art,” and others say her private collection might surprise people in its broadness.)

Calla Lily. To round out the lily category, Joseph Stella's 1944 colored pencil on paper is by a 20th century artist one must have in one's museum if one is attempting to be encyclopedic. It sold May 24 at Christie's “Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture” auction for $61,200; a good buy (though more than twice the estimate).

Home on Leave. For some reason, the Norman Rockwell among the first eight paintings to be publicized — “Sick Puppy” — has fallen off the Crystal Bridges website and a subsequent list of holdings. It was a sappy as it sounds. “Home on Leave,” a cover Rockwell made for a 1945 “Saturday Evening Post,” features a sailor in a hammock in the shade of a sunny yard. It's got a dog, too, and the dog's not sick. It sold for $4.52 million at Sotheby's May auction.

Flags, Afternoon on the Avenue. In 1998, seven years before Crystal Bridges was a twinkle in Alice Walton's eye (or at least before it twinkled publicly), this patriotic oil on canvas by Childe Hassam brought a record $7.9 million at a Christie's auction. Its palette is less overbearing than much of Hassam's work (in our opinion) and with flags waving, it puts the American in American art.

The Spirit of the Hunt. This circa 1917 painting by Charles Prendergast and his brother, Maurice, in tempera, gold and silver leaf, may not be in the Crystal Bridges collection, but let's hope it is. It also sold at Christie's in 1998, for $1.4 million to an anonymous buyer; it was once in the collection of Lillie P. Bliss, a founder of the Museum of Modern Art.

Indian Mode of Traveling. This Seth Eastman painting from 1869 was sold by Sotheby's in 1998 for $937,500, and at the time New York arts writer Carter B. Horsley called it “superb, large and rare work ... that belongs in a major museum.”

The Hunter's Dilemma I. Crystal Bridges already owns a painting by Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (“The Life of a Hunter: A Tight Fix”) and “Hunter's Dilemma” would be a nice match. It sold at Christie's May auction to “Anonymous” for $1.1 million, a record for Tait at auction. Are two Taits too much? We'll see in 2009.

The Builders. This cubist-colorist tempera on board by Jacob Lawrence, the famous 20th century African American painter who addressed social issues, fits nicely in the puzzle that is the picture of Crystal Bridges. It is part of a series, and sold at Christie's in May for $2.5 million, a record for the artist.

Mountain Lake. This post-Civil War landscape of gentle deer standing by a lake at sunrise is the work of the great painter of the West Albert Bierstadt. It was consigned (“inexplicably,” according to art writer Carter B. Horsley of the City Review) by the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, which happens to be where Crystal Bridges has parked its Eakins for the moment. It sold for $4.8 million in May at Sotheby's.

Sweet Land of Liberty. It might be the title that makes us wonder whether Walton bought this 1943 N.C. Wyeth oil, which depicts a country lane in fall. Or it might be that it fetched $1.49 million at auction at Sotheby's May auction, though estimated for $400,000 to $600,000.

Rose Garden. This 1901 oil by Maria Oakey Dewing was estimated to sell at $200,000 to $300,000 at a 2000 auction at Sotheby's. A Sotheby's American art expert was quoted as saying “people have been waiting for that painting for 25 years” and she was quite right: It sold for $1.1 million. Maybe not to Alice Walton, but it's said to be equaled only by Dewing's work in the National Gallery.

Smiley Face. Wal-Mart's icon is rarely parodied in art thanks to the company's muscular legal staff, but Walton might see if she could buy Matt McDonnell's digital artwork found on his website, McDonnell's smiley face is black, white and red, instead of yellow.

What you won't see. Huge abstract expressionist work and late 20th century sculpture. Workman said — with a straight face — that the work is expensive (no doubt about that — a Warhol just sold for $71 million) — and not the right scale for the Crystal Bridges galleries.

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