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The Paul and Rachel Mellon Collection

The Paul and Rachel Mellon Collection is a world-class ensemble of European artworks that is as richly varied as it is comprehensive in focus including European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts.

HIGHLIGHTS

The Mellon Collection unfolds the exciting narrative of the major avant-garde schools and movements in European art from the 18th until the early 20th century. While the main body of the collection features masterpieces and other illustrative examples of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, Mr. Mellon’s extensive collection of sporting art and Mrs. Mellon’s opulent collection of jewelry made by French designer Jean Schlumberger are also prominently featured.

ABOUT MR. AND MRS. PAUL MELLON

Paul Mellon (1907–1999) was the son of Andrew W. Mellon, American financier, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and a noted collector of Old Master paintings who founded the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Rather than following his father in business, Paul Mellon devoted his life to collecting art and philanthropy. Educated at Choate Rosemary Hall school, Yale University and Cambridge University, his appreciation for English culture and thoroughbred horses is reflected in his collection of British and Sporting art. Paul Mellon, who lived in Upperville, Virginia, served VMFA as a trustee for 44 years. His second wife, Rachel Lambert Mellon (1910–2014), was also a longtime VMFA supporter and a patron of the arts and sciences. She contributed substantially to the museum through her donation of bespoke jewelry and decorative objects by French-born jeweler and designer Jean Schlumberger. Paul Mellon credited Rachel Lambert Mellon with inspiring his interest in French Impressionism, and together they donated important works from their collections to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Rachel Lambert “Bunny” Mellon and Paul Mellon photographed in VMFA’s Mellon Galleries in 1987. Photo: Robert Shelley VMFA Photo Archives Neg no M3549.18

FRENCH ART

Impressionism: A Revolution in Visual Art

Between the late 1860s and the early 1870s, several closely associated artists began reimagining the pictorial field and discovering new modes of representing their experiences of modern life. Looking to recently established methods of painting outdoors for inspiration, each of these artists pursued the ideal of “optic truth,” applying paint in experimental manners to capture distinct moments of visual perception on their canvases. Whether depicting the effects of changing light and atmospheric conditions or some idiosyncratic gesture or facial expression, they analyzed each motif that rendered it justly and logically.


Women Models in Degas’s France

Although France was established as a republic in the 1870s, women remained deprived of the civil rights that were accorded to men under this new liberal regime. They were excluded from most professional careers and broadly categorized as either “virtuous” wives and mothers or as women of “ill repute”. In his work Degas represented women with a preponderant frequency. The notion of femininity revealed by Degas’s works was generally confined by the stereotypes prevalent in the bourgeois milieu of this time: delicate opera dancers, timid shop girls, and impoverished women sketched exploitatively in their nudity.


Gauguin, Sérusier, and the School of Pont-Aven

As Paul Gauguin’s work and reputation attracted growing attention from the art world, younger painters from Paris began gathering around him in Pont-Aven around 1888. One of these young apprentices was Paul Sérusier, whose philosophical reflections on the relationships between form and color elicited a new poetic dimension from his landscapes of the region. On the occasion of the reinstallation of the Mellon Galleries in 2021, VMFA acquired a spectacular painting by Serusier, The Three Pond Cottage at Le Pouldu, in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Mellon’s generous support of the museum.


The Fauves: A New Spectrum for Modern Art

A group of young artists rejected Impressionist principles instead deriving their radical approaches from overlooked Post-Impressionist painters like Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Cézanne. They painted with a transgressive exploration of color for color’s sake and an apparent disregard for the ordinary rules of composition. Describing the bust of a child exhibited amid paintings by Matisse, Vlaminck, Derain, and Marquet, the art critic Louis Vauxcelles wrote, “It’s Donatello amongst the fauves (‘wild beasts’),” giving name to a new revolutionary movement in art: Fauvism.


Bonnard, Vuillard, and Vallotton: After the Nabis Vision

In 1888, a group of young artists in Paris aimed to replace naturalistic representation with personal and visionary interpretations of subjects leading to this collective calling themselves Nabis (which in Hebrew means “prophet” or “inspired”) After a decade of active collaboration, original members Bonnard, Buillard, and Vallotton parted from the group and began to use line and color to express the animated environments of modern Paris or to re-create domestic interiors and scenes of family life. These discrete themes allowed them to elaborate their art’s ornamental vocabulary, integrating painting itself as fundamentally decorative.


Cubism: Reconstituting the Figurative

From around 1907 until 1912, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque worked closely together to develop the essential principles of a new and radical approach to representation. Instead of relying on conventional rules of perspective to achieve illusionist imitations of nature, they were decomposing forms into fragmented geometrical planes to convey their subjects from multiple viewpoints. Responding to a group of paintings that Braque exhibited in 1908, the critic Louis Vauxcelles (1870–1943) understood their subjects as having been reduced to “geometric outlines, to cubes.” His cursory evaluation eventually led to this new figurative tendency being called Cubism.


“The painter who trusts his eye alone is deceived”: The Mature Work of Raoul Dufy

Dufy began taking evening painting classes in his hometown of Le Havre, France, when he was eighteen. Five years later, he moved to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts on a scholarship. After encountering the work of Matisse and other Fauvist painters at the Salon des Indépendants in 1905, Dufy spent the next few years exploring relationships between striking colors and heavily contoured forms. His subsequent works emulated the more subdued palette and boldly structured figures in Cézanne’s work, until his former classmates Othon Friesz (1879–1949) and Georges Braque introduced him to the principles of Cubism. 


SPORTING ART

Haseltine's British Campion Animals

In 1925, American sculptor Herbert Haseltine was granted a commission to create a series of sculptures for the Field Museum, formerly the Museum of Natural History in Chicago, from philanthropist Marshal Field (1893-1956). The artist proposed a group representing prize-winning animals from leading agricultural shows in Great Britain. Haseltine worked on the set until 1933, titling the nineteen completed works British Champion Animals. Owing to his boundless admiration for British country life, Paul Mellon purchased the entire series from the Field Museum in the mid-1980s and donated them to VMFA.


Portraits Of Horses

The tradition of horse portraiture emerged in Europe early in the 18th century, principally in Great Britain. These paintings were intended to validate the merit and value of racehorses bred and raised for members of the aristocracy. They amounted to an entirely new pictorial genre that derived from 17th-century battle scenes, landscape painting, and the iconographic conventions of equestrian portraits.


In Pursuit

The Paul Mellon Collection of sporting art is particularly rich in European hunting scenes dating from the early 18th century until the beginning of the 20th century. Since the Middle Ages, hunting was one of the principal activities by which Europe’s elite classes, and especially the aristocracy, defined their social standing. Hunting on horseback was an assertion both of a landowner’s authority over the land itself as well as his dominance over its human and animal inhabitants. Hunting for sport also served as a form of physical exercise that was considered respectable for gentlemen during times of peace.


Horses and Courses

Owing to a long history of royal endorsement that began in the early 17th century, horse racing was referred to as “the sport of kings” and competitive racing became a prestigious pastime for members of the aristocracy. The tradition of sporting art was established when owners and breeders began to commission portraits of their winning horses to commemorate their victories. In Europe and America, prominent artists such as John Wootton (ca. 1682-1765), Edward Troye (1808-1874), Edgar Degas (1834−1917), and Sir Alfred Munnings (1878−1959) made important contributions to the genre of sporting art.

For more opportunities to learn, please visit The Friends of Sporting Art.

THE RACHEL LAMBERT MELLON GALLERIES OF SCHLUMBERGER JEWELRY

This extraordinary legacy of jewelry and objets d’art that Rachel Lambert Mellon commissioned from Jean Schlumberger throughout his career is the largest and most comprehensive public collection of his work and a testimony to a decades-long collaboration between an artist and patron.

The generous gift of the Rachel Lambert Mellon Collection of Jean Schlumberger to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts offers an exceptional opportunity to display the creations of one of the most talented fashion designers of the 20th century. As a lifelong patron of the arts, Rachel Lambert Mellon possessed a distinctive taste in art, decor, and fashion characterized by pieces that were at once lavish and whimsical, highly original, and consciously understated. When Mrs. Mellon first saw Jean Schlumberger’s vibrant creations at his showroom in New York’s Upper East Side in 1954, she undoubtedly recognized a kindred spirit in the French jewelry designer.

In the colorful associations of precious stones, metals, and enameling for sculptural designs inspired by nature, architecture, and the exuberant audacity of his surrealist contemporaries, Schlumberger’s designs epitomized the chic. But his jewelry also expressed an apparent pleasure in the fantastic and the unexpected. This extraordinary legacy of jewelry and objets d’art that Rachel Lambert Mellon commissioned from Jean Schlumberger throughout his career is the largest and most comprehensive public collection of his work and a testimony to a decades-long collaboration between an artist and patron.

ON VIEW IN THE MELLON GALLERIES

Raoul Dufy: Drawn to Royal Ascot

Raoul Dufy was drawn to the alluring spectacle of the crowd at Ascot and spent two days in June 1930 observing the throng of upper-class people gathered there, tracing their contours and movements with his distinctively sinuous and gestural lines to produce sketches commemorating the event. He later used these sketches as the basis for more detailed watercolors that are also included in this exhibition. Drawn from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, these works depict the sport that captivated Mellon during his studies at the University of Cambridge and remained a lifelong passion.

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Mellon Collection Lectures

Talks & Lectures: The Private Life of Mrs. Rachel Lambert Mellon: Life into Art
59:25

With a laser eye, witty intelligence, and nimble hands, Rachel Lambert Mellon, known as “Bunny,” fostered her life as an art form. Mac Griswold, her biographer, shares insights on her life.

Paul Mellon Lecture: Van Gogh and the Olive Groves
1:10:15

On Thursday, November 4, 2021 Dr. Nicole R. Myers, The Barbara Thomas Lemmon Senior Curator of European Art, Dallas Museum of Art presented the VMFA Paul Mellon Lecture titled, Van Gogh and the Olive Groves.

Paul Mellon Lecture: Seeing and Not Seeing the Civil War: Eastman Johnson’s A Ride for Liberty
53:32

Dr. John Davis, noted Eastman Johnson scholar & former Alice Pratt Brown Professor, Smith College, explores why there was so little painting during the Civil War depicting race, slavery, and the battlefield, with Eastman Johnson’s painting in the collection of the VMFA as its starting point.

Talks & Lectures: René Magritte and the Art of Seduction
50:50

Dr. Michael Taylor, Chief Curator and the Deputy Director for Art & Education, Oct 29, 2017

This lecture focuses on The Seducer, a mysterious and provocative painting in VMFA’s Mellon collection.

Paul Mellon Lecture: Enlightened Eclecticism: The Grand Design of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland
55:46

Dr. Adrianano Amymonino, Director of Undergraduate Programmes in the Department of History of Art at the University Of Buckingham, presents the annual Paul Mellon Lecture at VMFA, Enlightened Eclecticism: The Grand Design of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland.

Curator’s Talk: The Reinstallation of the Mellon Collection
1:14:33

The collection of European paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts given by Paul and Rachel Mellon constitute an essential facet of the museum’s identity. Dr. Sylvain Cordier, Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art, discusses the reinstallation of the Mellon Collection.