Visiting the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art with Victoria

As we drove home to Milwaukee from Naples, FL, last month, we took a long detour to visit Bentonville, AR, to see the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art (website here), and I tried to think of an excuse to write about it on this blog — a connection to London. 

The William J. Clinton Presidential Center & Park
The first connection I found was as we drove around Little Rock, AR.  Well, President Clinton met the Queen, right?  A stretch for an entire blog post, I guess.
Then I snapped a sign on the way along Interstate 40. Go figure.

The Crystal Bridges Museum
Our drive was summer to winter in reverse.  In Florida, it was like summer, We saw wonderful blooms all through Georgia and even Tennessee.  But by northern Arkansas, it was just beginning to turn green. 

The setting and architecture of the museum is stunning.  The first thing we did was have lunch, but there wasn’t a single relative of Steak and Kidney Pie or Bangers and Mash on the menu.We comforted ourselves with California wine and hamburgers.

Indians of Virginia by James Wooldridge, ca. 1675
 I was really excited when we started through the galleries and found one of the first pictures was done by an Englishman, James Wooldridge, ca. 1635-1695.  It is the earliest painting in the collection.  The label tells us: “…Wooldridge spent his career in London, and never himself encountered Native Americans.”  He worked from sketches and engravings made by others.  Success!!  A REAL connection with Number One London!! Hooray.
Cupid and Psyche, by Benjamin West, 1808
Of course I needed have worried.  The museum displays a number of works by Americans who spent parts of their careers in London.  Benjamin West  (1738-1820) was born in Pennsylvania, moved to London in 1765 and became Historical Painter for George III in 1772. Twenty years later West became the second president of the Royal Academy of Art; he is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral.  

Mrs. Theodore Atkinson, jr. (Frances Deering Wentworth), 1765
John Singleton Copley 1738-1815
Copley was born in Boston and became well established in colonial America as a portraitist.  He left his family to study in London and Italy. He and his wife and children settled in London in 1775.  He enjoyed successes and disappointments, the latter particularly in regard to a painting he made of the Prince Regent which Prinny declined to purchase, perhaps assuming it was to be a gift.  Mrs. Atkinson (above) is sumptuously attired, showing the wealth of colonial society.  She holds a gold chain attached to a tame squirrel.
View of Mark di Suvero sculpture from the gallery
Alice Walton, daughter of the founder of the WalMart empire, founded the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and worked closely with the architect Moshe Safdie to integrate the buildings with the hilly woods of the Ozarks.  She is active in many philanthropies.
Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife (Fanny Osborne), 1885
by John Singer Sargent 1836-1925
Though the museum is growing rapidly and filled with fascinating art, I will close with two paintings by another American who ended up making much of his career in Britain.  The label points out the contrast in the active figure of Scottish author Stevenson contrasted with the ease of his wife.  Sargent carried on the great portraitist tradition of Van Dyke, Reynolds, Gainsborough and Lawrence, below in the portrait of Mary Crowninshield Endicott Chamberlain.
Mrs. Joseph Chamberlain, 1902
by John Singer Sargent
Mary Chamberlain was born in the US and married in 1888, as his third wife, Joseph Chamberlain, a member of Parliament who also held several important positions in the British government.  She was the daughter of the U.S. Secretary of War, William C. Endicott.  Sargent’s work was particularly admired for his treatment of the “shimmering” satin of her attire.
Yield, 2011, by Roxy Paine
If the crowds  at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on the Sunday we visited is any indication, I would say Ms. Alice Walton has been very shrewd about what would bring tourists to this quiet spot in the middle of the continent. 

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