The New York Times reports that the buyer for Asher B. Durand's Kindred Spirits, which sold from the New York Public Library's collection for 35 million at Sotheby's recently, is Alice L. Walton, of the Walmart Waltons. Evidently the Metropolitan Museum teamed up with the National Gallery in an attempt to buy the painting but couldn't compete. The Library said it would give New York institutions preferential terms, but 35 million has an attraction of its own.
In some ways it's hard to get too worked up about this. Walton's statement indicates that the painting is destined for a museum the family's foundation is planning to open in Arkansas. If true, the painting won't disappear forever into a private collection or depart overseas. New York has a wealth of great Hudson River School paintings; Arkansas, not so much. I can certainly understand the desire of New Yorkers to hold onto what is a truly iconic work; on the other hand, as I've said before, I think The Oxbow should be Northampton, or Massachusetts at least, and not New York. But that's the way it goes. That Durand's painting, with its rich overtones of a certain strain of 19th century American idealism, should do the work of washing Walmart's money clean is ironic, I suppose, but not exactly unprecedented. One hopes the museum will not be as tacky as it sounds:
The Walton Family Foundation's museum, to be called Crystal Bridges, takes its name from an inspired glass-and-wood design that traverses a local spring-fed stream. Designed by the Boston-based architect Moshe Safdie, the museum will "present perspectives on the flow of America's history and heritage through the eyes of the nation's most influential artists," according to a statement released yesterday by the Walton Family Foundation.
But if it adds to the cultural life of the state, that's fine. As others pointed out when the Library's plans went public, the real lesson here is not to donate art to a library. Museum deaccessioning may be controversial, and sometimes done improperly or foolishly, but I can't imagine this happening if the painting were in a museum already, save in the most extraordinary circumstances - perhaps not even then. And when one considers that the Library received Kindred Spirits from the daughter of William Cullen Bryant, who is pictured in the painting and whose family had owned it since it was commissioned as a gift for him, it's hard not to feel regret and a little anger on their behalf.
(And in light of this week's Pollock mishap, I'm not going to harp on the Times referring to "Martin Johnson Meade" as one of the American artists that will be featured in the Walton's museum. By the way, am I imagining things, or has the Times yet to run anything on the Pollock story? You'd think they'd be all over it. Think again, I guess. Or perhaps this weekend.)