Published: February 19, 2002
RICHMOND, VA. – An exhibition paying tribute to one of the Virginia Museum’s most generous benefactors, “‘Gone Away’: Gifts From the Estate of Paul Mellon,” is on view through July 7.
The exhibition features a selection of works from Mellon’s last generous gift to the museum – a group of 42 British sporting paintings, 12 French drawings and 19 sculptures. Among them are paintings by George Stubbs, works by Stubbs’ followers Ben Marshall and James Ward, and drawings by Camille Piossarro and Edgar Degas. Animal sculptures by Antoine-Louis Barye, Christophe Fratin and Count Stanislav Grimaldi are also included.
“Paul Mellon, who died in 1999, provided the museum with six decades of advice and support and was a trustee longer than anyone else in the museum’s history – 40 years. He gave the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts more than 2,000 works of art, and made substantial gifts toward the construction of two additions to the museum’s building,” says Dr Michael Brand, the museum’s director.
“His support through the years helped immeasurably to make the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts collection, and, indeed, the museum itself, what it is today,” Brand continued.
The exhibition is divided into five categories: horse racing, fox hunting, coaching and carriages, shooting, and bronzes and drawings.
Malcolm Cormack, the museum’s Paul Mellon curator, says Mellon often expressed his thought that British painting, especially sporting art, was underestimated in its own land.
“A famous art historian had said that ‘the history of art should not be confused with praising famous horses,'” Cormack notes. “But Paul Mellon recognized the worth of British sporting art and realized that its leading exponent, George Stubbs, was more than just a horse painter. Stubbs, we can now see, was one of the leading British artists of the Eighteenth Century, to be ranked with Gainsborough and Reynolds. There are five important examples of Stubbs’ art in the exhibition.”
The title “Gone Away” is a foxhunting phrase meaning that the fox has broken away from his cover to begin the chase. In his 1862 novel, Orley Farm, Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, himself a keen rider to the hounds, described the scene as a pack of hounds breaks into full cry: “Sure there is no sound like it for filling a man’s heart with an eager desire to be at work.”
Mellon’s gifts to the museum over the years included paintings, works on paper and sculpture in the fields of British sporting art, French Impressionist and post-Impressionist art, American art, and Indian and Himalayan art.
In 1963, he summed up his attitude towards collecting art: “I don’t believe many motives in life are clear-cut or self-evident. Collecting especially is such a matter of time and chance – intellectual bent, individual temperament, personal taste, available resources, changing fashions – and the psychologists tell us, even early child-training – and my own motives as a collector seem to myself extremely mixed. Although temperamental trends or subjective impulses were perhaps uppermost, I won’t say it was done entirely without thought, without reason, without plan…”
Mellon was born in 1907. He was 91 years old when he died.
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