story and photos by Cyd King
BENTONVILLE — Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s first major traveling exhibit will be a tough act to follow, given the history and complexity of the works included.
The Hudson River School: Nature and the American Vision encompasses 45 stunning Hudson River School paintings from the collection of the New-York Historical Society. The exhibit opens to the public on Saturday (May 5), but the museum hosted a private preview for its Guild- and Circle-level members Thursday night (May 3).
Guests gathered in the museum’s Great Hall for champagne and wine, hors d’oeuvres and music by the Bentonville Chamber Orchestra before making their way to the exhibit just down the hall. Museum founder Alice Walton attended, as well as Linda Ferber, vice president and senior art historian of the New-York Historical Society, and a couple of young reps from Christie’s, one of the exhibit’s sponsors. The affair was the first major social engagement since Crystal Bridges’ pre-opening events last November.
Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection includes landscape paintings by masters of the Hudson River School, such as “Kindred Spirits,” the iconic work by Asher Brown Durand. Museum director Don Bacigalupi called the museum's small number of works “appetizers,” to the historical society’s “feast.”
The Hudson River School is not a “school,” but rather a mid-19th century American art movement by a group of landscape painters influenced by romanticism. Their paintings depict the Hudson River Valley and the surrounding area, as well as the Catskill Mountains, Adirondack Mountains and the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
In addition to well-known works by Durand, Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Church, Thomas Cole, Jasper Cropsey, Martin Johnson Heade and John Frederick Kensett, the exhibition includes all five paintings in Thomas Cole's allegorical series, The Course of Empire.
The paintings on loan to Crystal Bridges have been on tour while the New-York Historical Society was under renovation. Its newly refurbished galleries reopened on the same day the Bentonville museum opened — Nov. 11, 2011. The exhibit made stops at only four other museums in the country, and Crystal Bridges will be the last before it goes back to New York for good.
The crowd at Thursday night’s event also heard from Kevin Murphy, curator of American art at Crystal Bridges.
“I could think of a better inaugural temporary exhibit,” Murphy told 200 or so gathered in the Great Hall. “It allows us to explore the breadth and depth of [the Hudson River School artwork in] our collection.”
Crystal Bridges’ members can see the exhibit for free. Non-members can get tickets information here.