Exhibit | March 18, 2014

The William S. Paley Collection of Modern Art at Crystal Bridges

BENTONVILLE, Ark.—Works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, and Henri Matisse will debut at  Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on March 15, as the museum hosts  The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism. The temporary exhibition, organized by The Museum of Modern Art in New York, features more than 60 works of art and includes paintings, drawings, and sculpture. The exhibition will be on view through July 7; Crystal Bridges is the only venue in the central United States to host the exhibition, and will be the last stop on the collection’s tour before the works return to MoMA. Admission is $8 for adults. Admission to all temporary exhibitions is free for Museum Members and for youth ages 18 and under.

Highlights of this exhibition include works by Paul Gauguin, André Derain, Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, most created between 1880 and 1940, at the height of French Modernism, as well as Picasso's Boy Leading a Horse—all selections from the extraordinary private collection of William S. Paley, the late founder and guiding spirit of CBS.  Paley was the charismatic entrepreneur who virtually invented the Columbia Broadcasting System. He was also an unusually active trustee at The Museum of Modern Art, joining its board in 1937, only eight years after the museum’s inception, and rising through its ranks to become president and then chairman. Paley began buying art in the mid-1930s and he continued to do so into the early ‘70s. Upon his death in 1990 at the age of 86, Paley willed his entire collection to the museum.

“The Paley Collection is a wonderful example of the passion for art that inspires many personal collectors,” said Crystal Bridges Executive Director Rod Bigelow.  “As Mr. Paley kept most of the works in his private home, there is an intimate quality to this exhibition that provides some insight into the mind of the collector. It is a rare and exciting opportunity for our guests from all over the region and the nation to view such breathtaking works by many of the European artists whose names are familiar to all of us, and who inspired generations of American artists. We’re glad that Mr. Paley chose to donate his life’s passion to a museum, so that everyone can enjoy his magnificent collection.”


Modernism first gained momentum in Europe in the early part of the 20th century. Paris was one of the primary centers for this new artistic movement, which incorporated many divergent styles, ranging from Post-Impressionism and Cubism to Surrealism and Dada. Though a few forward-thinking American collectors and gallery owners such as Alfred Stieglitz were showing European Modernism as early as 1909, the movement did not come into the awareness of the general American art community until the famous Armory Show of 1913, at which large audiences were first exposed to works by artists such as August Rodin, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, and Henri Matisse, among many others. The exhibition marked a sea change in American art, and impacted artists and collectors across the country.

At Crystal Bridges, The Paley Collection  provides a rare opportunity for guests to view the masters of European Modernism who inspired many American artists, both those studying abroad and those working at home in the U.S. The MoMA exhibition is augmented by a concurrent exhibition of works by American Modernists from Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection, including three works by Alfred Henry Maurer that have not been previously on view in the Museum.  This complementary exhibition, The European Connection, will showcase the influences of European Modernism on American artists, as well as the ways in which American artists adapted European techniques to create their own distinctly American styles. Showcased in this exhibition are artists such as Stuart Davis, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, and Max Weber.

“The European Connection is a unique opportunity to present American Modernists from the Crystal Bridges collection in a new context,” said Assistant Curator Manuela Well-Off-Man. “At the beginning of the 20th century many American artists, including painters and sculptors from Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection, were inspired by revolutionary art ideas from Europe. For the first time the museum is able to exhibit European and American Modernists in adjacent galleries, which will enable our guests to explore and discover connections and relationships between these artists and art movements.”

A Personal Collection:

William Paley was most active as a collector from the mid-1930s up to the second World War, ahead of the post-war craze for Modernism that struck the art community in the 1950s.  He was passionate about modern art, selecting works based on his personal taste, rather than for investment purposes. For this reason, many of the works he selected were small in dimension—a size suitable for the walls of Paley’s personal New York apartment, where most of the works resided throughout his lifetime. The temporary exhibition galleries at Crystal Bridges have been modified with partial walls and columns to increase viewers’ sense of personal relationship with the works and reflect the intimate conditions under which the collector intended them to be viewed. 

A striking exception to this rule is Pablo Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse, 1905-06. Originally intended as the central motif of a never-realized mural-sized work titled The Watering Place, this large-scale painting (measuring more than 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide) exemplifies the warmth and optimism of Picasso’s “Rose Period.”

Additional Resources:

A free audio tour of The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism is available for check-out at the entrance to the exhibition.  A free drop-in guided tour featuring selected highlights from the exhibition is offered on Thursdays at 1 p.m.  A full roster of public programs associated with the exhibition is listed online.

This exhibition was organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. At Crystal Bridges, the exhibition is sponsored by The William S. Paley Foundation, ConAgra Foods, Greenwood Gearhart Inc., KFSM-TV CBS, and Stephens Inc.