ON THE OCCASION of the hundredth anniversary of Paul Mellon’s birth, an exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts of watercolors from the Yale Center for British Art seems a particularly apt way to celebrate Mr. Mellon’s extraordinary beneficence to our two institutions, which are linked not only through his generosity but through the history of his involvement with British art. For Mr. Mellon, who had been a trustee of the Virginia Museum since 1938, serving as chairman of the exhibition committee for the museum’s Sport and the Horse in 1960 helped to focus his attention on the serious collecting of British art. Three years later, his already remarkably rich and deep collection of British paintings and drawings was given its first public showing in Painting in England, 1700–1850, the largest exhibition presented by the Virginia Museum to that date. That exhibition, as Mr. Mellon remarked, was a “watershed between the concept of a private and a public undertaking,” and it led to his announcement in 1966 of his intention to found a center devoted to British art at his alma mater, Yale University. Since its opening to the public in 1977, the Yale Center has been the single greatest repository of British art outside the United Kingdom and an important hub for scholarship in the field. Mr. Mellon also endowed the Virginia Museum with its own outstanding collection of British sporting art.
That this exhibition should focus on watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center is also fitting. Not only is the development of watercolor painting one of the signal achievements of the British school, but nowhere else is this aspect of British art so well represented as in the collection of more than fifty thousand works on paper at the Yale Center.
Scott Wilcox, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Yale Center, selected the watercolors for the exhibition in consultation with Mitchell Merling, the Paul Mellon Curator at the Virginia Museum. Scott has provided an incisive introduction to the catalogue, setting in context a series of superb essays on the represented artists written by Matthew Hargraves, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Yale Center. Eleanor Sokolow, Bartels Scholar in the Center’s Department of Prints and Drawings, provided invaluable research assistance over the summer of 2005. For support of their work on this publication, the authors would like to express their gratitude to John Baskett, Kraig Binkowski, Gillian Forrester, Theresa Fairbanks Harris, Eleanor Hughes, Morna O’Neill, Mark Pomeroy, Stéphane Roy, and Angus Trumble. Julia Marciari Alexander, Kristin Swan, and Anna Magliaro have played key roles in the production of the book, handsomely designed by Susan Marsh. Their work has received the enthusiastic support of Patricia Fidler and Mary Mayer at Yale University Press. Much of the responsibility for the organization of the exhibition has fallen to the Yale Center’s Registrar, Tim Goodhue, and his fine staff.
At the Virginia Museum, Mellon Curator Mitchell Merling has been instrumental in the realization of the project. Aiesha Halstead, Robin Nicholson, and John Ravenal of the exhibition planning department and registrars Karen Daly and Mary Sullivan coordinated logistics, while exhibition designer Tom Baker and publications staff Sarah Lavicka and Rosalie West oversaw the production of the installation and ancillary materials.
Neither of our two institutions’ celebrations of this anniversary would have been possible without the encouragement of Mr. Mellon’s executors, Beverly Carter and Frederick A. Terry, Jr., Esq., who have been caring stewards of his legacy. We are pleased that Mr. Mellon’s centennial has offered us the occasion to develop a collaborative project that has applied the highest order of scholarly expertise and aesthetic discernment to an important selection of great British watercolors from the Yale Center’s collection. The use of Mr. Mellon’s watercolors for public pleasure and academic research befits the purposes for which he made his extraordinary gifts both to Yale and to the Virginia Museum. Indeed, Mr. Mellon’s spirit of sharing his collection with the broadest public will be extended when this exhibition travels to the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. We are delighted be able to send the exhibition to the Hermitage thanks to the generous assistance of John Morton Morris and Hazlitt, Gooden, and Fox.
Director, Yale Center for British Art
Director, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts