- Duncan Robinson
Paul Mellon (1907–1999)
Mellon, Paul (1907–1999), philanthropist and art collector, was born on 11 June 1907 at 5052 Forbes Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, the only son and second of the two children of Andrew William Mellon (1855–1937), banker and statesman, and his wife, Nora (1879–1973), daughter of Mr and Mrs Alexander McMullen of Hertford, England. His childhood was marred by his parents' incompatibility and by their heavily publicized divorce, granted in 1912. On the other hand it was marked by happier memories of summers in rural England in stark contrast to the rest of the year in industrial Pittsburgh. At the age of twelve Mellon was sent to Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut, and from there, in 1925, he went to Yale University. Unsurprisingly, given his ties to England, he fell under the spell of Yale's great teachers of English literature, men to whom he later ascribed his love of English literature, life, and art. After graduating in 1929, he spent two years reading English history at Clare College, Cambridge. After Yale he 'found Cambridge lectures dull and dry', but discovered other attractions, including 'lovely Newmarket, its long straight velvet training gallops, its racecourse, (to me) the most beautiful one anywhere' (Mellon and Baskett). When the self-styled 'galloping Anglophile' was given a chestnut mare in 1930, he named her Lady Clare.
The following decade was one of uncertainty. Unsure of his ability to live up to his father's expectation that he would succeed him as the head of an international business empire, Mellon sought other outlets for his energies. In 1933 he bought his first racehorse, fully aware of his father's opinion that 'any damn fool knows that one horse can run faster than another'. But encouraged by the success of his horses, Mellon in 1936 bought from his mother the 400 acre Rokeby Farm in Upperville, Virginia, where he centred his highly successful racing and breeding operations. Determined to run them profitably, he decided after the war to switch from steeplechase to flat racing and each year to send selected yearlings to England to train with Peter Hastings-Bass and, from 1964, with Ian Balding at Kingsclere, Berkshire. From these arrangements came a succession of winners on both sides of the Atlantic, including the legendary Mill Reef, winner in 1971 of the Epsom Derby, the Eclipse stakes at Sandown, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Ascot, and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. In the same year Run the Gantlet won the Washington DC International and was voted America's champion turf horse. Twenty-two years later, in 1993, it was Sea Hero who realized his owner's ambition to add the Kentucky Derby to his trophies.
On 2 February 1935 Mellon married Mary Elizabeth Brown, née Conover (1904–1946). A daughter, Catherine, was born in 1936 and a son, Timothy, in 1942. The death of Andrew Mellon in 1937 placed a heavy burden of responsibility on the shoulders of his only son, not least for his father's gift to the nation of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, on which construction had begun in the same year. In 1941 he presented the finished building, designed by John Russell Pope, to President Roosevelt, who accepted it on behalf of the American people. Within weeks of the ceremony Mellon was in uniform as a volunteer under selective service. He served as an instructor at the US army's cavalry training centre at Fort Riley, Kansas, from 1941 to 1943, and was then posted to the office of strategic services in London. After D-day he served in France and Belgium before returning to the United States with the rank of major in 1945. Before the war Mary Mellon had persuaded her husband to join her in undergoing analysis with C. G. Jung; they were on one of their extended visits to Zürich when Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. In 1945, in what Mellon described as the most significant result of their association with Jung, he and his wife established the Bollingen Foundation. A year later Mary Mellon died as a result of chronic asthma, and on 1 May 1948 Mellon married Rachel ‘Bunny’ Lloyd, née Lambert (b. 1910), a horticulturalist whose interest in French art complemented his own growing attachment to that of England.
Mellon concentrated after the war on the task he once described as 'giving away a fortune wisely'. In 1941 he set up the Old Dominion Foundation to which he contributed more than $90 million before merging it with his sister's Avalon Foundation, following her death in 1969, to form the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. He rejoined the board of the National Gallery of Art in 1945 and served as president from 1963 to 1979 and as chairman from 1979 to 1985. He oversaw the building of the east wing, designed by I. M. Pei, funded largely by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and accepted on behalf of the nation by President Carter in 1978. To his father's collection of old masters, he and his wife added works by the impressionists and post-impressionists, along with a selection of their British paintings.
Mellon bought his first painting by George Stubbs (1724–1806) in 1936, a profound study of humane sportsmanship entitled Pumpkin with a Stable-Lad and an augury of the controlled passion with which, from 1959 onwards, he was to collect and promote the study of British art. Advised initially by the critic and broadcaster Basil Taylor, he acquired some 1600 paintings and many thousands of prints and drawings, the great majority of which he gave or bequeathed to the Yale Center for British Art, the museum and research centre he established in 1966, and to which he attached his London foundation, known from 1970 onwards as the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. The Yale Center, housed in a landmark building by Louis I. Kahn, opened in 1977. Meanwhile Mellon recognized the claims of the state in which he had made his home by giving parts of his British and French collections to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and contributing to the cost of a new wing to house them there.
Mellon held honorary degrees from the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, Yale University, the Carnegie Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh, and the Royal Veterinary College, University of London. In 1974 he received an honorary knighthood for his services to British art and his generosity to many UK institutions. He was awarded the Benjamin Franklin medal of the Royal Society of Arts in 1965, he was a fellow of the British Academy, and he became a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1977. Among the awards he received in the United States were the national medal of arts (1985), the American Philosophical Society Benjamin Franklin award, and the World Monuments Fund Hadrian award (1989). By 1992 his philanthropic contributions were valued at more than $600 million, excluding grants made by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. To that sum his charitable bequests added more than $300 million, excluding the value of the works of art he gave or bequeathed to the National Gallery of Art, the Yale Center for British Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and other institutions. Paul Mellon died on 1 February 1999 at his home, Oak Spring, Upperville, Virginia, and was buried on 8 February at Trinity Episcopal Church, Upperville. His wife, Rachel, survived him. His testamentary provisions followed his lifetime commitments to the museums and galleries he supported, Cambridge, Carnegie Mellon, and Yale universities, and his school, known latterly as Choate Rosemary Hall. They also reflected his wider interests in art and architecture, conservation, education, environmental protection, sport, and veterinary medicine.
In 1992 Mellon published the memoir he wrote with the help of his friend and adviser, John Baskett. He ended Reflections in a Silver Spoon with a typically modest self-assessment:
I have been an amateur in every phase of my life; an amateur poet, an amateur scholar, an amateur horseman, an amateur farmer, an amateur soldier, an amateur connoisseur of art, an amateur publisher, and an amateur museum executive.
It would never have occurred to this unassuming man that he was widely regarded as the greatest philanthropist of the twentieth century.
- P. Mellon and J. Baskett, Reflections in a silver spoon: a memoir (New York and London, 1992)
- P. Mellon, ‘A collector recollects’, in Selected paintings, drawings and books, Yale U. CBA (1977) [excerpts from a speech delivered at the opening of the exhibition ‘Painting in England 1700–1850’ at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, 20 April 1963]
- The Independent (3 Feb 1999)
- The Times (3 Feb 1999)
- Daily Telegraph (3 Feb 1999)
- The Guardian (4 Feb 1999)
- personal knowledge (2004)
- National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
- Yale U. CBA
- W. Orpen, oils, 1925, Yale U. CBA
- A. Munnings, oils, 1932–3, Yale U. CBA
- J. Ward, pencil and watercolour drawing, 1980–1989, NPG [see illus.]
- T. Pullan, bronze bust, 1984, NPG
- K. Draper, oils, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
- K. Draper, oils, Yale U. CBA
- K. Draper, oils, Choate Rosemary School, Wallingford, Connecticut
- T. Pullan, bronze head, Yale U. CBA; casts, Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, London; Clare College, Cambridge
- Mellon, Paul, Hon, (11 June 1907–2 Feb. 1999), Hon. Trustee, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, since 1985 (Trustee, 1945–85; President, 1963–79; Chairman of Trustees, 1979–85) in Who Was Who
- Mellon, Paul (1907-1999), philanthropist, art collector, horse breeder, and conservationist in American National Biography Online