Last of the Mellon Pictures

  • Arts & Culture
  • 2014

When philanthropist Paul Mellon died in 1999, he bequeathed 110 major works of art to the National Gallery, the last in a very long string of art gifts from the Mellon family (see 1937 entry on Andrew Mellon). The donated pictures were to remain in the care of Paul Mellon’s wife during her lifetime. She released some, but continued to enjoy others in her home. The final 62 works became property of the people of the United States when Rachel Mellon died in 2014. These include exceptional paintings by Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and other masters. Because they were acquired for enjoyment in a family house, they are mostly intimate and cozy pieces. And they express collector appetites, eras, and viewpoints that may not be fashionable today. “These are not the works everyone else is acquiring and displaying,” said a curator at the National Gallery at the announcement of the gift. This is an example of the way philanthropy adds diversity to institutions, by preserving individual idiosyncrasies and capturing perspectives that lie outside mainline trends. Some of the paintings went on display quickly; a 2016 exhibition was scheduled to present them in toto.