Somewhere along the line in our search for truth.many people seem to have forgotten the purpose of pleasure, of the simple enjoyment of simple things in their daily lives, Paul Mellon said in 1964. What we often really need is an hour alone to dream, to contemplate, or simply to feel the sun.
A memorial exhibition at the National Gallery of Art highlights the gifts of Mellon, one of the Gallery’s founding benefactors. An Enduring Legacy: Masterpieces from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon presents 89 works that include French, British and American paintings, sculptures, drawings, watercolors and prints.
A section of the exhibition is specially devoted to the work of Edgar Degas, Mellon’s favorite artist. The principal subjects in Degas’ sculptures, paintings, pastels and prints came from late 19th-century Paris. Degas focuses on the dancers, bathers, racehorses and jockeys.
One of Degas’ most notable sculptures is Little Dancer Fourteen Years Old, which encompasses contemporary Paris through appreciation for modernity and respect for naturalism. Using such materials as pigmented wax, plastilene and lead, the surfaces of Degas’ sculptures are rough and unfinished. In sculptures such as The Tub and Spanish Dance, you watch Degas’ subjects intimately while they bath or dance as if you weren’t even there.
Impressionist and post-impressionist paintings include Claude Monet’s Woman with a Parasol – The Lighthouse at Honfleur, Edouard Manet’s Plum Brady and Paul Cezanne’s Boy in a Red Waistcoat. Prominent works by masters of American and British art include George Stubbs’ White Poodle in a Pun and George Bellows’ New York.
Also exhibited is a notable drawing by Vincent Van Gogh, Harvest-The Plain of La Crau , Mary Cassatt’s pastel The Black Hat and watercolors by Winslow Homer and Maurice Prendergast.
Mellon gave about 900 works to the National Gallery during his lifetime. Mellon, the son of Pittsburgh industrialist and financier Andrew W. Mellon, represented the second generation of major benefactors to the National Gallery. Andrew W. Mellon founded the National Gallery in 1937 and donated his famous art collection to the museum. He funded the construction of the West Building of the National Gallery.
Mellon supported the National Gallery in constructing the East Building in 1978. He established the Patron’s Permanent Fund, an endowment for the purchase of works of art. He died on February 1, 1999 at the age of 91.
Mellon’s generosity to the National Gallery exemplifies a life of modesty and grace. This particular exhibit brims with priceless artwork, allowing you to take time out, travel to different worlds with curiosity and, as Mellon said, simply feel the sun.
The exhibit runs Nov. 7 through Feb. 27 in the East Building of the National Gallery of Art.