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Indepth Arts News:

1999-11-07 until 2000-02-27
National Gallery of Art
Washington, DC, USA United States of America

French, British, and American paintings, sculpture, drawings, watercolors, and prints are included in a memorial exhibition highlighting the gifts and bequests of Paul Mellon (1907-1999), one of the founding benefactors of the National Gallery of Art and its most generous donor. An Enduring Legacy: Masterpieces from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon presents eighty-nine works, including fourteen rare waxes by Degas. It is on view in the East Building of the National Gallery from 7 November 1999 through 27 February 2000.

This exhibition honors Paul Mellon, whose generosity and service to the nation are unsurpassed, said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. The full breadth of Mr. Mellons gifts can be seen abundantly in the galleries throughout the museum. A selection of the most significant works is on view in the exhibition, and as suggested by Mr. Mellon, special focus is given to the work of Degas--his favorite artist--including an extraordinary group of waxes, the only works of sculpture hand-modeled by the artist.

A variety of different themes in Degas work -- bathers, dancers, and horses and riders--is represented in the section devoted to the artist, and encompasses works of sculpture, paintings, prints, drawings, and pastels. Included is the masterpiece Little Dancer Fourteen Years Old (both wax and plaster versions); the monumental painting Scene from the Steeplechase: The Fallen Jockey (1866; reworked 1880-1881 and c. 1897), along with a related group of drawings of horses and jockeys; and the important painting Woman Viewed from Behind, probably a portrait of Mary Cassatt visiting the Louvre in Paris, on view with a related etching of the same subject, a study for the etching, and the etched copper plate itself. Many of these works were part of Mellons final gift of seventy-three paintings, works of sculpture, and drawings received in 1999.

Stellar impressionist and post-impressionist paintings that are on view include Edouard Manets Plum Brandy (c.1877), Georges Seurats The Lighthouse at Honfleur (1886), Claude Monets Woman with a Parasol-Madame Monet and Her Son (1875), Paul CÚzannes Boy in a Red Waistcoat (1888-1890), and Mary Cassatts Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (1878). Outstanding works by recognized masters of British and American art include George Stubbs White Poodle in a Punt (c.1780), George Bellows New York (1911), and Winslow Homers The Dinner Horn (Blowing the Horn at Seaside) (1870).

Among the major drawings are J.M.W. Turners A Yorkshire River (1827), Vincent van Goghs Harvest-The Plain of La Crau (1888), several works by Paul CÚzanne including an intact artists sketchbook, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrecs Seated Woman from Behind-Study for Au Moulin Rouge (1892), Fashionable People at Les Ambassadeurs (1893), and significant watercolors by Maurice Prendergast and Winslow Homer, as well as Mary Cassatts pastel The Black Hat (1890).

Paul Mellon, along with his sister Ailsa Mellon Bruce, represented the second generation of major benefactors to the National Gallery of Art. They were the son and daughter of English-born Nora McMullen and Pittsburgh industrialist and financier Andrew W. Mellon. Andrew W. Mellon founded the National Gallery of Art in 1937 and donated his famous art collection to the country, as well as funds for the construction of the West Building and an endowment.

Born in 1907, Paul Mellon began collecting art in earnest in his early forties with his second wife, Bunny, the former Rachel Lambert Lloyd. During his lifetime, he gave more than 913 works to the Gallery including important French impressionist, post-impressionist, and American works of art. Paul Mellon also generously supported the museum in other ways. He led the Gallery in developing the East Building (opened in 1978), which he, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded. He also helped establish and generously supported the Patrons Permanent Fund, an endowment for the purchase of works of art, and provided funding for other purposes. Renowned as a philanthropist, art collector, patron of the arts, and horse breeder, Paul Mellon died on 1 February 1999, at Oak Spring, his home in Upperville, Virginia, at the age of 91.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, which will be the sole venue for the showing.

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