Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art announces new acquisitions that add to the breadth of the museum’s collection, including James McNeill Whistler, The Chelsea Girl, 1884 (oil on canvas), Thomas Eakins, Archbishop James Frederick Wood, 1877 (oil on canvas), Alfredo Ramos Martínez, Florida Mexicana, 1936, (oil on canvas), Jeffrey Gibson, What We Want, What We Need, 2014, (found punching bag, glass beads, artificial sinew, copper jingles, nylon fringe, and steel chain), and Maya Lin, Silver Upper White River, 2015, (recycled silver). These works will debut in the permanent collection galleries throughout the month of September.
“The acquisitions represent a kaleidoscope of artistic excellence from the 19th century to today. They diversify our collection, broaden our understanding of the American experience, and help foster important conversations among our visitors and community,” said Crystal Bridges Executive Director Rod Bigelow.
Whistler was an American-born expatriate who lived predominantly in London. His radical monochromatic paintings raised the eyebrows of critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Eakins was born and lived most of his life in Philadelphia and was considered one of the most important artists of the 19th century. Through his exacting approach to painting, Eakins reflected in his art the spirit of rationalist inquiry of the United States in the late 19th century. Alfredo Ramos Martínez, an innovative leader and teacher in Mexico in the years surrounding the Mexican Revolution of 1910, brought vibrant colors and bold compositions to painting in America during the Great Depression, while Jeffrey Gibson celebrates his own Native American heritage through a non-traditional use of materials such as beads and jingles to bring together past and present. Maya Lin, a contemporary sculptor and activist with international acclaim, focuses her work on humanity’s interaction with, and impact upon, the natural world.
“Spanning three centuries, these artists uniquely contribute to the rich story of American art and help shape the fabric of our national identity,” said Director of Curatorial Affairs Margi Conrads. “These works add depth to the stories of well-known artists already represented in the collection and broaden our perspective with artists who are perhaps less well known. The diversity in time periods, favored materials, and experiences of the artists represented in these new acquisitions underscore our effort to introduce a new dialog with the viewer and keep our galleries dynamic.”
James McNeill Whistler, The Chelsea Girl (1884)
The Chelsea Girl is representative of Whistler’s mature painting style, featuring a single, monumental figure rendered in a limited color palette. Unlike other portraits Whistler painted of upper-class clients and friends, the subject of this portrait is a working-class girl. Whistler dignifies the girl with a defiant stance and pointed gaze and depicts her using a few vigorous brushstrokes. Although parts of the painting remain seemingly unfinished, it was celebrated by critics when it was exhibited in 1893.
Whistler was an influential American artist and a leading proponent of the Aesthetic Movement in the late 19th century. “Art for art’s sake” was the rallying cry of Whistler and like-minded compatriots who believed that sheer beauty was subject enough for art and need not present a moralizing story or historical narrative. Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, he spent his childhood in St. Petersburg, Russia, where his father worked as a civil engineer. After a brief time at West Point Military Academy, Whistler moved to Paris to study art. By 1859 he had settled in London, which was his primary home for the remainder of his life. He rose to fame with the exhibition of his portrait of his mother (Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (1871; Musee d’Orsay) and was well-known for his unconventional personal behavior, flamboyant dress, bold pronouncements, and recognizable style.
Whistler declared The Chelsea Girl “the first statement of the beginning of a painting,” but he was so satisfied with it that he gave the painting to Alexander Cassatt, brother of artist Mary Cassatt. Because of its sketchy style, Whistler’s working methods are visible in the painting. He used thin glazes of brown paint for the shoulders of the girl’s coat, layers of peach and rose for her face, thick yellow brushstrokes to render her scarf, and dashes of white to fill in the apron.
Thomas Eakins, Archbishop James Frederick Wood (1877)
This life-size portrait depicts the first Archbishop of Philadelphia, James Frederick Wood, who served as a leader of the Catholic Church from 1860 to his death in 1883. In this portrait, Wood is seated in a bishop’s throne, robed in violet vestments with his hands resting on an embroidered apron. Despite the sitter’s prominent position, Eakins humanized him with a kindly face, revealing both humility and stolid certainty. Though he was a Protestant, Eakins eventually painted 14 portraits of Catholic clergymen, all of which he gave to the sitters as gifts.
Eakins’ art and his teaching rested on and emphasized a profound understanding of human anatomy. His portraits, so true to life in their physical and psychological likenesses, were sometimes rejected by the sitters, who had hoped for a more romantic portrayal of themselves. Poet Walt Whitman wrote of Eakins: “I never… knew [but] one artist, and that’s Tom Eakins, who could resist the temptation to see what they think ought to be, rather than what is.”
Recent conservation of this remarkable portrait has revealed elements in the background that had previously become almost indiscernible. The treatment also returned the painting’s colors to a vibrancy that had been obscured. Today Archbishop James Frederick Wood appears much as its original audiences would have seen it.
Alfredo Ramos Martínez, Florida Mexicana (c. 1936)
Florida Mexicana shows an indigenous Mexican woman offering a large bowl of vibrant flowers to an unknown recipient. Ramos Martinez balances sculptural form and decorative impulses to create an image that is at once modern and retrospective. The female figure echoes the rolling fields and chiseled mountains through the soft curves of her body and angularity of her features. Yet, devoid of typical perspective, the composition breaks with traditional illusionism. Despite being painted in 1936 at the height of the Great Depression, this idyllic scene unites bounteous nature and woman in intimate communion, and holding an abundance of flowers, the woman becomes an allegorical symbol of spring, new life, and hope.
Easel painting was for Ramos Martinez, like many of his American and Mexican colleagues in the 1930s, only a part his artistic practice. Murals and work on paper are more prevalent. This new acquisition, painted about six years after the artist immigrated to California, is one of a small group of canvases that depict women with flowers. It especially draws on his abiding love of his homeland and its people, inspirations from Mesoamerican art, and his knowledge of turn-of–the-century French painting, like that of Paul Gaugin, which he gained through studies in Paris.
Florida Mexicana has been in a private collection since the 1950s. Its inclusion in Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection offers visitors an opportunity to view an important work that has been rarely available to the public and highlights significant influences that inform American art in the first half of the 20th century.
Jeffrey Gibson, What We Want, What We Need (2014)
Jeffrey Gibson is a contemporary artist who works with found objects and the traditional materials of his Choctaw and Cherokee heritage. The resulting sculptures express his personal experience of American society. What We Want, What We Need is one in a series of works incorporating punching bags that bring together contrasting ideas of masculinity and femininity, aggression and beauty, tradition and modernity. His works stand as testament to the living and evolving cultures of Native America, blending tradition and popular culture, the personal and the political, to comment upon the way these elements enhance and enrich one another.
Gibson’s work connects across Crystal Bridges’ contemporary collection. In its exploration of themes of gender identity and costume, What We Want, What We Need calls to mind the work of Nick Cave. In its connection to cultural heritage and politics, the sculpture rhymes with the work of Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. And in its inclusion of textiles and found objects, the work demonstrates a powerful link to the artwork of Kara Walker.
Maya Lin, Silver Upper White River (2015)
Maya Lin first gained fame for her winning design for the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington, DC, while she was still an architecture student. Today, her art focuses on humanity’s interaction with nature, underlining a collective responsibility to protect and preserve the world. Lin’s interest in environmental issues, background in architecture, and the regional connection of this sculpture fit well with Crystal Bridges and its emphasis on art, architecture, and nature. Silver Upper White River debuts today in the museum’s north gallery bridge. The wall-mounted sculpture, made from recycled silver, visible from the museum’s restaurant Eleven, overlooks the Crystal Bridges pond system which feeds into the White River watershed.
This commissioned work represents a birds-eye view of a nearby section of this major waterway running 722 miles through Arkansas and Missouri. Beaver Lake, a manmade reservoir on the White River about 20 miles east of Crystal Bridges, serves as the source for drinking water in much of Northwest Arkansas. Visitors can find the shape of Beaver Lake on the far left of the sculpture. The artist chose the medium—recycled silver—because Europeans arriving in the Americas noted that there were so many fish in the streams that the reflections off their backs gave rise to the term “running silver.” The Silver Upper White River is part of a series of river sculptures Lin completed, including the Yangtze River in China, the Missouri River, commissioned by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO; and the Colorado River, on view in the Aria resort in Las Vegas, NV; among others.
The work invites viewers to rise above eye level to see the landscape at large and consider the interconnectedness and interdependence of the land, the people, and the biome. Lin discussed the importance of the artist’s voice in environmental issues when she visited Crystal Bridges in the fall of 2014 for a Summit of thought leaders and artists from around the country. [Lin’s video from the Summit.] She returns to Crystal Bridges on October 19 to give a public Keynote Lecture in the museum’s Great Hall. Prior to Lin’s visit, on October 16, visitors can attend a screening of the Academy Award®-winning documentary film, A Strong Clear Vision on Maya Lin.