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A global salute to philanthropist's legacy

Museums will mark the centennial of Paul Mellon with a celebration of his passion for art.

March 21, 2007|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Nineteen institutions -- including the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia; the Royal Academy of Arts in London; and Oxford, Cambridge and Yale universities -- have joined to mark the centennial of philanthropist Paul Mellon. The Washington components of the yearlong celebration were announced Tuesday at the National Gallery of Art.

The celebration will begin with an Impressionist exhibition mounted in his honor, "Eugene Boudin at the National Gallery of Art," which opens Sunday.

Mellon, who died in 1999, guided the gallery for 58 years. He also gave it $218 million and 900 pictures. "We thought of bringing them all together, but we couldn't," said Director Earl "Rusty" Powell. "There'd have been nothing left in the galleries. So we settled on Boudin. Paul loved Boudin's small paintings. They were one of his mini-passions. He gave us 26."

Twenty exhibitions, lectures and receptions will be offered in Mellon's honor by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, another institution deep in his debt. He served as a trustee there for more than 40 years, helped pay for its building and gave it $17 million and more than 10% of its art.

To Yale, where he went to college, he was even more generous. He commissioned the building for the Yale Center for British Art (from architect Louis Kahn) and then filled it with his collection of exceptional British art. At his death, he left the center an additional $75 million and 130 pictures -- under the condition that the museum never charge admission or request donations at the door.

The Yale Center is the centennial's lead organizer. In September, it is sending "A Passion for British Art, 1700-1850: Paul Mellon's Legacy" to the Royal Academy in London. Tate Britain nearby will show the sporting art he gave it.

In October, one Mellon exhibit, of watercolors he owned, will open at the Hermitage. Another, "British Vision: Observation and Imagination in British Art, 1750-1950," goes on view in Belgium at the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent.

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