When Paul Mellon died in February 1999, he left the Center nearly three hundred paintings, sixty-four mostly small-scale sculptures, large numbers of drawings and prints, and a magnificent group of rare books. These were the works he chose to keep for his own pleasure until the end of his life, and they represent the more personal side of his great British collection. To the vast array of his gifts to the Center since its opening in 1977, they brought a firmer sense of his own life, character, and interests.
Mellon’s passion for English country life was rooted in childhood experiences: his aversion to the grim, moneymaking world of his unresponsive father, his happy early visits to England, homeland of his mother. For him England was truly a green and pleasant land. Taken together, the works in the bequest present an idyllic vision of the place, green and fresh, a paradise of hunting, shooting, fishing, and horse racing.
This exhibition included about 150 paintings from the bequest, with a complementary selection of sculptures, drawings, and rare books. Among the highlights were eleven paintings by George Stubbs, eighteen oil sketches by John Constable, a small painting on copper by William Blake, and nine paintings, largely of equine subjects, by the early twentieth-century painter Robert Bevan.