Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art of Bentonville on Tuesday announced the acquisition of “a major new work” by Walton Ford, an artist whose creations are something of a departure from those the museum has previously disclosed.
Ford and the massive watercolor, “The Island,” were the subject of a lengthy profile in the Jan. 26, 2009, issue of The New Yorker. The artist, who works in Great Barrington, Mass., has won renown for his realistic depiction of animals. “His technical facility is dazzling,” New Yorker writer Calvin Tomkins wrote. “No one else, to my knowledge, has ever done watercolors of this size and ambition … and no contemporary artist has employed natural history to tell the kind of stories that Ford tells.”
“The Island,” an 8-feet-high by 11 ½-feet-long triptych, depicts “a writhing pyramidal mass of Tasmanian wolves (thylacines) grappling with each other and a few doomed lambs. The violent extermination of the thylacines, which were hunted to extinction in the early 20th century, calls into question who is hunter and hunted in this savage tableau,” the museum said in the release announcing the acquisition.
The Tasmanian wolf was hunted to extinction in the early 20th century by the settlers of Tasmania.
Most of Crystal Bridges’ previously announced pieces, while considered masterworks of American art, have been decidedly nonviolent and representational. Among them are a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington; Asher B. Durand’s “Kindred Spirits,” a gentle landscape with two human figures contemplating nature’s beauty; and Winslow Homer’s “Spring.”
However, the museum, funded by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton and the Walton Family Foundation, has not neglected abstract works, such as Romare Bearden’s “Sacrifice.”
Chris Crosman, chief curator for Crystal Bridges, called “The Island” a “tour de force,” adding that it’s considered Ford’s largest and most ambitious work so far.
“Ford’s work is really going to be one of the sleeper experiences when people come to the museum,” Crosman said. “When you see his paintings in the flesh they just blow your mind . . . there’s so much to see.”
Ford’s works are included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in New York and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C.
“The Island” will be on display at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin Jan. 23-May 24 and at the Albertina Museum in Vienna June 18-Oct. 18, 2010.