Schoolchildren flood into Washington's National Gallery in haphazard lines of fifth-grade enthusiasm. Ooooo-Ooo, the floors, the polished marble. Boys and girls take surreptitious slides. Such is a 10-year-old's first brush with culture. Throughout the galleries, groups of children sit on the floors, listening intently to art teachers. In front of Seurat's The Lighthouse at Honfleur, a lady is explaining small points of Impressionist technique. Hands are raised.... How?...Why?...
Unobserved, Paul Mellon is watching with satisfaction. The Seurat painting happens to be his, and the museum, a stately treasury of art that ranks just behind the Louvre and the Prado, was his father's legacy to the nation. Paul Mellon is president of the National Gallery, its guardian and its angel. He is, as well, owner of probably the world's finest private art collection.
But shift to another scene now, to a hot-dog stand at New York's Aqueduct racetrack. Mellon is waiting in line and, here also, goes unnoticed. The Saturday bettors around him are students of another sort of fine art, and a million-dollar Mellon entry suits their discriminating taste. Minutes later his chestnut colt, Arts and Letters, a 1-to-3 favorite, eases through the homestretch to win the $100,000 stake and the title of Horse of the Year.
It is only following such racetrack victories that Paul Mellon, a modest and private individual, steps forward, that the public sees this man of fabled wealth ($500 million or is it $1 billion? people in the crowd ask). On one such occasion last year as Mellon stood in a hushed winner's circle accepting an Arts and Letters trophy, a bettor looked him over closely. "Hey, Mellon," the man shouted. "With all your money, why don't you get your nose fixed?" Mellon took no apparent notice but his trainer, who tells the story, was obviously shocked by such irreverence.
March 16, 1970
Mellon's thoroughbreds—both stud and racing stable—are a distinguished collection in their own right. Perhaps because Mellon knows the applause of a race crowd is for a horse, not its owner, he does not shun such triumphs. "Of course, I suppose I get a certain amount of reflected glory," he says.
Ever discreet about his wealth and philanthropy, Mellon finds it convenient to be traveling abroad when public announcements are made of his gifts. His alma mater, Yale, has received more than $40 million (and he has promised it another $35 million in paintings and books). Sometimes forwarded along with a grant is a three-sentence statement for the press. Multimillion-dollar Mellon donations for conservation—to help preserve wildlife sanctuaries and establish the Cape Hatteras national park—are memorialized by nothing but dune grass, scrub oak and holly. That is good enough. He dislikes public show and finds it unnecessary to impress himself or anyone else. Quite obviously, he believes in the responsibility and utility of great wealth—"Giving large sums of money away nowadays," he has said, "is a soul-searching problem. You can cause as much damage with it as you may do good." Along with his boards of trustees, he administers two foundations that combined have assets of $270 million and administers them purposefully.
Though his fortune and propensity for anonymity seem to make Mellon an aloof figure, he does not insulate himself with a staff of retainers. One dark evening last fall in New York, he arrived at his East Side house by subway. He let himself in. "If it is very late, I find myself putting the collar of my coat up and kicking open the front gate like they do in the movies," he said with a smile. "I think it's sort of sissy to ring the doorbell and wait for the guard." He moved through the house to a room that he uses as an office. A John Singer Sargent portrait of a young girl faced his desk. English paintings of harbors, horses and a cricket match—studies that bore looking at—hung on other walls. Their beauty was in the unobvious, a figure or face in the background. The subtle, the understated appeals to Mellon. Ashtray or inkwell, every object in the room reflected charm and personal selection. But what spoke even more of the man were his books. Volumes on art were stacked on desk and table, slips of paper marking passages. Bookshelves lined a wall from floor to ceiling, but only one section was filled. He had lived in this house for five years but Mellon was obviously in no hurry to add books to the shelves simply to please a decorator's eye. A scholarly man with hornrims and a penchant for books, he knows someday there will be more than enough. On an empty shelf he had propped a photograph of Arts and Letters. Resting against floorboards were unhung pictures. Already he had run out of space for those. But the desire to collect, to enjoy and to savor persists. Mellon carries paintings around streets and airline terminals as anyone else might a book or a newspaper, arriving at a frame-maker's with a Van Gogh or at an exhibition with the Degas he has promised under his arm.
However, it is on a 4,000-acre estate that rolls out of the Blue Ridge Mountains across the foxhunting country of Virginia that all the facets of Mellon are evident in one magnificent setting—the Anglophile in his own parkland with his private gallery of British sporting paintings, the bibliophile with 20,000 rare volumes (some date from the time of Joan of Arc and Machiavelli), the horseman with enough enthusiasm and skill at 62 to compete in and win 100-mile endurance events, the thoroughbred owner with a practiced eye for conformation, and the countryman, concerned about his pastures and his animals. Like an artist, he is sensitive to the beauty of topography and landscape, building his houses and barns in the folds of the land. And like a conservationist, he respects the art of nature and knows it cannot be restored once it is destroyed. Mellon worries that he has perhaps done too much in carving out his stud farm. The honeysuckle deliberately has been left to climb the stone walls and split-rail fences.
At twilight on a winter evening, sycamore trees standing like sculptures against the sky, Mellon will set out for a walk. His Norwich terriers disappear across the fields in front of him as he heads for his hunter barn. The wind is from the southeast—rain, he thinks. Above a swale sits the red plank barn. At each stall Mellon turns the light on and looks in. It is a ritual, a moment of pleasure. The horses are in heavy blankets, PM stitched in the corners. There are five of them. The gray has his best days behind him.
"What we often really need is an hour alone, to dream, to contemplate or simply to feel the sun," Mellon once said. "What this country needs is a good five-cent reverie." He is a man with a sense of value and proportion about living, and about his life. That is Paul Mellon, sportsman: owner of the Horse of the Year, buyer of the finest collection of sporting paintings ever assembled, unpublicized conservationist, a man who wishes everybody knew the value of a good five-cent reverie.
Paul Mellon is the only son of Andrew William Mellon, the financier and plutocrat. It has been said of Andrew Mellon that he was a Secretary of the Treasury under whom three Presidents served. Senator Robert M. La Follette observed in 1924, "Andrew W. Mellon today is the real President of the United States. Calvin Coolidge is merely the man who occupies the White House." Before the disillusionment of the Depression altered the public view, Mellon was everywhere praised as the greatest Secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton. When he first came to Washington, summoned in 1921 by President Harding, few people had heard of him. Newspapermen did not know his middle initial, never mind what it stood for. They reported he was resigning the directorship of two companies. Actually he resigned from 60. In the ensuing years, however, the press came to realize how powerful he was. The New York Herald Tribune noted .. . "almost every American pursuing his everyday life was constantly contributing something to the upbuilding of that fortune and that power, for the Mellon group in the industrial realm reached out in myriad lines—to gas, coal, aluminum, coke, petroleum and all its byproducts, heat and power, iron and steel, glass and brick, transport by land, sea and air, finance, real estate, and a thousand derivatives of machine-age fundamentals."
With the onset of the Depression, some of the rage and torment of the country turned violently on Mellon. Firebrand orators of Congress threatened him with impeachment. He was replaced in the Treasury, and Hoover sent him to England as ambassador. After the Roosevelt victory in 1932, Mellon retired from public life, but not from the public eye. He was charged with defrauding the government of $3 million in income taxes. A grand jury refused to indict him on criminal charges, but protracted tax-board hearings, that had an almost sinister air, followed. Mellon was a frail man nearing 80 when he took the stand in his own defense. He was cleared—three months after his death in 1937.
Surprisingly, it was during the 1930s, through the bitter tax hearings, that Andrew Mellon was quietly making plans to give the country the largest single gift it has ever received. While in Washington he became aware that the United States, unlike the ranking nations of Europe, owned no national art collection. As a young man traveling abroad with another Pittsburgh youth—Henry Clay Frick—Mellon had been attracted to paintings. His family and friends considered it an "unaccountable aberration" when he arrived home from one of these trips with a picture that had cost $1,000. As his wealth increased, Mellon invested in old masters and in the grand but unemotional English paintings of Gainsborough, Romney and Reynolds. Portraits of aristocrats hung on the walls of his homes and he told one friend, "They are good company when I dine alone." Paul Mellon recalls those elegant painted figures "very urbane and always self-confident in their classical landscapes and autumnal parklands, smiling down at me with what seemed a warm and friendly glow."
Andrew Mellon would not buy a picture that did not personally suit his taste. He returned a fine Raphael merely because it did not give him pleasure. But once he had decided to form a collection that would provide a nucleus for a National Gallery he made his purchases with less of an idiosyncratic eye. He sought first-rank paintings that would illustrate the spectrum of style in Western art. In 1930 and 1931 he purchased 21 masterpieces from the Soviet government, which was secretly selling treasures from the Hermitage for needed cash. In the group were paintings by Rembrandt, Titian, Botticelli, Goya, El Greco and Holbein, but the prize was Raphael's The Alba Madonna, which alone cost Mellon $1,166,400. (The picture was acquired about 1510 by the Duke of Alba; later the Duchess gave it to her doctor in payment for a bill.) The extent of Mellon's purchases—$6 million—was not disclosed until 1935, in the course of the tax hearings.
In December 1936 Mellon offered President Roosevelt and the nation a $71 million gift: his art collection, valued then at $50 million, another $16 million to build the National Gallery and a $5 million endowment fund to provide for future purchases. Mellon stipulated that the museum not bear his name. The gift was accepted, although Congress viewed it suspiciously for months.
The Gallery opened in 1941, and since then it has received sizable donations from the Mellon family and foundations. Son Paul and daughter Ailsa Mellon Bruce donated $20 million in 1967 to add a new wing and expand the Gallery's extension service which lends paintings and sends traveling exhibits to 3,000 U.S. communities.
Not long ago Paul Mellon received a letter from a girl in Ann Arbor, Mich. She explained she had been in Washington for the November Moratorium march and had not believed the Gallery could truly be "for all the people." But she, like thousands of other college students, had rested and "caught up on sleep there." She thanked Mellon, and her letter gave him considerable pleasure.
Paul Mellon was born when his father was 52. Andrew Mellon had married late in life and he took his sprightly British wife, half his age, to live in a gloomy Victorian house in Pittsburgh. Paul remembers it as being "very dark—the halls were dark, the walls were dark and, outside, Pittsburgh itself was very dark." But the summers of his childhood were spent in England, and young Mellon was fascinated by the panorama of pre-World War I Britain. Red and blue railway cars rushed through the countryside, scarlet-clad soldiers played bugle and drums, ladies twirled parasols and Mellon remembers, "always behind them and behind everything the grass was green, green, green."
Each autumn the idyll would end and the Mellon family would return to Pittsburgh. The melancholy life there depressed his mother and when Paul was 5 his parents were divorced. Paul remained in the sober old house with his father, his 11-year-old sister and a Boston spinster who was employed as her companion. When he was 12 he was sent to Choate in Wallingford, Conn. There he developed a taste for literature and wrote the words for the school hymn that is still used. "I used to write poetry," Mellon explains. 'They had just built a new chapel and I don't know whether I was feeling very religious or whether I thought it was a good way to win the Sixth Form poetry prize. I can still remember being alone at night in a classroom and writing the verse on the blackboard:
From dreams and visions, heaven-sent,
From simple faith and Godly trust
Great empires, yea, each continent,
Has risen from the dust.
To those who saw this spire arise,
This composition out of nought
Is like a light from Christ's own eyes,
A glimpse of Christ's own thought....
Years later I found the poem pasted in the school hymnal and the boys singing it. But I never received the poetry prize. Instead, they gave me the most insulting thing—a leather-bound biography of Lincoln with the inscription, 'For earnest and persistent effort.' "
From Choate, Mellon went on to Yale. He continued his literary efforts, writing for the Yale Daily News and interviewing, among other people, Calvin Coolidge. Mel-Ion's predilection for England and her culture grew and, as he puts it, he turned into a "galloping Anglophile," both literally and figuratively. He considered going into the publishing business or perhaps teaching. His father, who must have been a little horrified at either thought, agreed to let him study history for a year at Cambridge, and Mellon managed to put in two before being summoned home to take part in the family businesses in Pittsburgh. During those years in Cambridge he used to walk across the quadrangle in a dressing gown in the rain to take a bath, but this did not dampen his ardor for England one bit. In fact he recalls the hardship fondly. On his way to England on the boat Mellon had met some foxhunting Pennsylvanians. At their suggestion he decided to try the sport. "I had never hunted before," he says, "and barely could jump. I didn't know a thing about foxhunting except what I had read in books. But I went to Leicestershire, hired a horse and tried it." He was so pleased with the experience that he began keeping a horse in a livery stable in Cambridge and started foxhunting regularly. He would put his horse in a boxcar, ride the train into Huntingtonshire or Lincolnshire, take the horse off and hack maybe 15 miles to a farmers' meet. Soon Mellon was paying regular visits to a bookstore in Pall Mall to buy sporting books. He purchased his first sporting painting, a Stubbs portrait of a racehorse named Pumpkin. Though Mellon has bought maybe 4,500 British paintings and drawings since, the picture remains his favorite.
In part because his father was Ambassador to the Court of St. James's, Paul was a figure of public interest. Newspapermen were continually seeking interviews with young Mellon. Asked about his future, he once blurted out: "I do not think that I would be a great success as a banker or industrialist. Commerce and banking hold no particular interest for me.... Other members of my family...are better fitted than I am to look after the family interests." But in December 1931, his father's arm around him, he went to work in the Mellon National Bank. The press was present to record his first day. "I'm going to learn the banking business," he said. What about your literary ambitions? reporters asked. "That's old stuff," he dutifully replied. After three years in the bank it was evident that Paul's interests were elsewhere. He left to people more adept and inclined the responsibility for the family holdings in Gulf Oil (25%), Alcoa (30%), Koppers (20%), Carborundum (20%) and the bank (40%).
Meanwhile Mellon began foxhunting in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire each winter. He married Mary Conover Brown, an ebullient Kansas City divorcee, and bought his first racehorse. The horse, an Irish jumper named Drinmore Lad, won his first outing, a hunt-meeting event worth $285. The sport was tweedy and genteel. A man's trainer and jockey were his friends and foxhunting companions. Drinmore Lad became a celebrated performer on this circuit and was considered good enough to be sent to England to prepare for the Aintree Grand National. Twice he was made favorite for the race, but he never started in it. A heart condition interrupted his training at crucial times and eventually caused his retirement. Mellon brought him home and, later, rode him foxhunting. The horse achieved further fame of sorts during World War II when one of Mellon's friends named his tank Drinmore Lad.
Mellon became a familiar figure at point-to-point races in England and the U.S., enjoying the camaraderie of such occasions and the intense, if amateur, competition. One lady recalls him in a pink hunting coat doing cartwheels down the table at a pre-race dinner. He finished by leaping up to the chandelier, and he brought it and the house down with the performance.
After the outbreak of World War II, Mellon enlisted as a private. He was sent to the cavalry school at Fort Riley, Kansas., where he was nicknamed Canteloupe. Within a few months he was made an instructor in the horsemanship department; he gave two-hour lectures in the care and preservation of leather, and riding lessons. After a year Mellon wangled an assignment with the OSS in England. He makes light of his military career ("At one point I was sent to Cheltenham as assistant to the general running victory gardens") but came out of the war a major.
In 1946 his first wife died of an asthmatic attack after a day's foxhunting. Mellon had two small children, Catherine (now the wife of John Warner, Under Secretary of the Navy) and Timothy (presently pursuing a career in city planning in New Haven). Two years later he remarried. His second wife is Rachel Lambert Lloyd, an heiress to the Listerine fortune.
In the late 1940s Mellon began to make sizable investments in thoroughbreds, buying expensive animals in England and Kentucky. His first fiat horse of any stature was County Delight, a good handicapper in the early 1950s. In those days Mellon enjoyed making small wagers on his horses. On one well-remembered occasion his trainer at the time, James E. Ryan, decided to make a special effort to please the boss. Mellon owned a 2-year-old of considerable ability that had never raced. Ryan took the colt to Saratoga but only worked him out on foggy mornings. The dockers never really saw the horse, who was faster than anyone believed. For the colt's final pre-race workout Ryan routed his jockey and his own children out of bed at 3 a.m. The Ryan children were given flashlights and stationed at the furlong markers around the track. They were instructed to flash on the lights when the colt, ironically named Shining, passed in the dark. The final workout went successfully, and the horse won its race at a tidy 10 to 1. Unfortunately, in the excitement of his betting coup, Jim Ryan forgot something. Mellon could not get to the track that day and asked Ryan to place a $200 bet for him. After saddling up Shining, Ryan rushed to the window and placed his own bet, but forgot he had to bet for Mellon, too. When Mellon, thoroughly elated, called later in the evening, Ryan suddenly realized his error—and that he was out $2,000.
Now, as then, Mellon leaves the operation of his racing stable up to his trainer, seldom interfering. Once he did give instructions that a yearling was to be bought "at any price," but on that occasion Mellon was angry. He was staying in England at a small old-fashioned hotel in Scarborough just before the yearling sales at Newmarket. He heard an obnoxious man declaring loudly that he would buy such-and-such a horse, no matter what it cost—that no one had the money to outbid him. The man so offended Mellon that he decided to buy the animal. It cost him $50,000 and it died before getting to the races.
Mellon's best investments during the 1950s were in broodmares, and his Virginia farm, Rokeby, gradually became a ranking stud. It was a quality operation from the beginning. The broodmare barn was the scene of Cathy Mellon's coming-out party, shrimps were served in one stall, hamburgers in another and the dancing was in the yard. Of course, with all the decorations, the two orchestras and the fireworks set off in their pasture, the horses wouldn't have recognized the place.
A sheaf of wheat serves as a crest for the Mellon farm, and indeed the crops of horses that come from it are rich and bountiful. Among his 50 mares are several who have proven their quality on racecourses—Blue Banner, Admiring, Amerigo Lady, Prides Profile, Secret Step, Berkeley Springs. There is a daughter of the superb Quill, the dam of Fort Marcy, sisters and half sisters to Oaks winners and champions like Quadrangle, Raise A Native and My Dear Girl. But the gold-star mother of the lot is All Beautiful, who cost Mellon $175,000 and six weeks later produced Arts and Letters. Her second foal, the lightly raced Bell Bird, is a Triple Crown hopeful this season. Since 1964 when Elliott Burch trained Quadrangle to win the Belmont Stakes—Mellon's first classic victory—the stable has had increasing success. Fort Marcy beat Damascus in the 1967 Washington, D.C. International and became Grass Horse of the Year. And last season after narrowly losing the Kentucky Derby and Preakness to Majestic Prince, Arts and Letters became invincible and took home half a million dollars and every title in sight.
Mellon may be retiring in all other matters, but his horses bring out the ham in him. He fancies himself as something of a poor man's Ogden Nash, but usually restricts circulation of his original verse to family and friends. However, he composed a poem to be read at the Thoroughbred Racing Association's dinner honoring Fort Marcy as 1968's top grass horse:
"Dear Boss: I am flattered and honored
By the news you have sent me today
And I hope you'll accept in my absence
My award from the T.R.A.
As I browse through my field in Virginia
And muse, at the close of the day
Once again they will give me a medal
Made of silver. Although it ain't hay,
It will spur me to new fields to conquer
And sharpen my search for renown
And with Elliott Burch as my tutor
You can bet that I won't let you down.
So bring on next year's Dr. Fagers
Your Czars, your Sir Ivors and all
And when you've collected your wagers
I'll have paid for my oats and my stall.
And regards to my friends and admirers
From LA to the Bronx and Canarsie
Your loyal retainer
Your endless campaigner
Your pal, Yours sincerely, Fort Marcy."
Anyone working for Mellon finds it convenient to be similarly well-versed. The secretaries at his farm, Miss Tross and Miss Rye, dispatched the following telegram to him in England after Fort Marcy won the International: ROKEBY COLORS FLYING HIGH SAY THE SAME FOR TROSS AND RYE. The cable received a quick reply that read: THE ATTITUDE OF RYE AND TROSS IS FAR OUTDISTANCED BY THE BOSS WHATEVER STATE OF JOY THEY DWELL IN IS MORE THAN MATCHED BY MR. MELLON.
Besides indulging in poetic exercises Mellon finds his personal sport in more conventional ways. An enthusiastic foxhunter, he rides with a local pack two days a week and nearly every winter still goes to England to hunt with the Duke of Beaufort's hounds in Gloucestershire or the Middleton in Yorkshire. In the first 10 minutes of his first day's sport in England last year, he found himself sliding down his mare's neck, headlong into a ditch filled with three feet of water. His hat floated away, but Mellon surfaced, wiped himself off and remounted. "It was embarrassing," he says, "and it was desperately cold. I wanted to go home but I thought they'd say I was afraid of their ditches. And actually I was afraid because the mare disliked jumping them. But finally it got so cold I didn't care what they thought and I left."
Mellon is far more skilled than this tale of woe suggests. Twice he has won the difficult 100-Mile Ride held each spring over the mountains in Hot Springs, Va. He trains rigorously for the event and the two silver bowls he has won in the competition are prominently displayed in his study; the Belmont trophy, The Jockey Club Gold Cup and similar prizes won by his racehorses are exiled to his private museum. With considerable annoyance Mellon says he "was robbed of first place last year in the 100-Mile Ride. My horse had it absolutely won, but they gave him second. Later I found that one of the judges was a close friend of the winners of three divisions in the event."
Mellon is proud of at least one other athletic achievement. Pushed to it by a bet, he once climbed up seven feet and neatly tucked himself into the top row of his bookshelves. He has a photograph to prove it, but to date no verse commemorates the occasion.
The Mellons' Virginia home is a whitewashed stone farmhouse. Logs burn in the fireplaces on a winter afternoon and the sun streams through the French windows. The house has a serenity and peace. It is the handiwork of Mrs. Mellon, a gentle artist of house and garden. A visitor is impressed at first by nothing so much as the subdued harmony. But a closer look discloses a Van Gogh over the fireplace and another of the artist's works in a corner. Degas, Constable, Manet, Monet—they are all here—a Corot inside a cupboard, a Seurat drawing behind the telephone. Every picture in the room is a masterpiece. They have to be—as one art historian puts it, "Masterpieces only tolerate masterpieces around them." Mellon tells of a classmate of his stepdaughter Eliza who came to lunch, looked up at a Van Gogh and asked, "Oh, who paints in the family?" Not a bit taken aback, Eliza replied, "No one here. Da buys them in the store."
The Mellons began collecting French Impressionist and post-Impressionist works soon after their marriage. There was hardly an important auction in London, Paris or New York at which their agents did not buy something. But never was the Mellon name connected with the purchases—$800,000 for Cézanne's Houses in Provence, $317,000 for Manet's La Rue Mosnier, $210,000 for Gauguin's La Ronde des Trois Bretonnes, $249,000 for Manet's Madame Gamby. Other paintings were bought privately. The quality and scope of this personal collection astonished the art world when Mellon permitted the paintings to be exhibited at the 25th anniversary of the National Gallery. There were some 200 paintings in all, gathered from Mellon's houses at Cape Cod, New York, Washington, Virginia and Antigua.
Most of the canvases reflect their owners' preoccupations—Mellon's interest in horses and the countryside and his wife's in gardening. In a tweed skirt and floppy sun hat made for her by Balenciaga, Mrs. Mellon works indefatigably among her cabbages, beets and radishes, and she has been found with her trowel working in some other notable gardens. Soon after Jack Kennedy moved into the White House he appealed to Mrs. Mellon to make him a garden near his office. An amateur landscapist of professional skill, she supervised the planting of a traditional 18th-century American garden. Her layout had beauty, reason and utility. The President became known for giving visiting statesmen "the Rose Garden treatment." There were beds of herbs for the White House kitchen and flowers for cutting. A memento of those days, a large scrapbook that Jackie made for her and filled with pressed flowers, is in Mrs. Mellon's garden library, along with a botanical guide that George Washington once used. It was Mrs. Mellon who was asked to landscape Jack Kennedy's grave—and at her suggestion rough fieldstones and wildflowers have been laid over it, reminders of the Cape Cod landscape the President loved.
Lady Bird Johnson sought Mrs. Mellon's advice about the White House gardens but Pat Nixon has not. "Now I work around the White House surreptitiously," Mrs. Mellon says. "The bulbs have to be ordered, the soil has to be changed and the trees have to be planted for the next President. Gardens aren't political."
Mrs. Mellon happens to be a Democrat, and a rather ardent one, much to her husband's amusement. He is a major contributor to the Republican Party and Mrs. Mellon has found herself sitting on Mr. Nixon's right at party fund-raising dinners.
Mellon does not share his wife's penchant for gardening, contenting himself with his books. On a shelf of his study he keeps illuminated works of the poet-artist William Blake. The hand-colored volumes that Blake's wife stitched into bindings and tried, usually unsuccessfully, to sell for five shillings, are now rare and treasured. Mellon owns the only copy of Blake's greatest poem, Jerusalem, which the poet printed and colored. In 1827 Blake made this single copy—"it will cost twenty guineas," he wrote at the time, "...but it is not likely that I shall get a customer for it." Mellon purchased the book for $60,000.
On other shelves are extraordinary sporting books, which he has been collecting ever since leaving Cambridge in 1931. It is Arts and Letters that made Mellon prominent in sporting circles recently, but his remarkable library will assure him a place in the sporting world for years to come. The books record gentlemanly feats and portray a glorious time in sport. There are kennel records of 18th-century British fox hunts, and the minutes and results of long forgotten race meetings. Yellowing, fly-stained manuals that were used two centuries ago discuss proper methods of horseshoeing. One pocket-sized work is entitled, Ten Minutes Advice to Every Gentleman Going to Purchase a Horse out of a Dealer, Jockey or Groom's Stables. Published in Philadelphia in 1787, it gives "rules for discovering the perfections and blemishes of that noble animal," seeks to guard the unwary from deceptions and instructs the amateur in ways of recognizing "commonly jades." The Mellon books cover a wide range. The Lawes of Drinking, which dates from 1617, considers such problems as "Whether we may drink the Pope's health," "What is to be done if where all drink of one tankard it so happen that one chance in his drinking to sneeze," and whether a gentleman who "forcibly puts his hand into a maid's bosom may be sued for a trespass."
Like any book collector, Mellon has an appreciation for the tooled bindings. He could spend an hour in front of the shelves showing an interested visitor this book and that one. The library in his study is limited by space and his special interests, but across the fields in the Brick House, where he lived with his first wife, is a collection of 20,000 books, as rare as those of any other private library in the world.
In that house, now turned into a private gallery, a librarian and staff work steadily, cataloguing Mellon's purchases and reverently handling medieval books executed while there was still a Roman Empire. Illustrations in a French work on hunting show the pursuit of hares, stags and boars in the 1400s. A copy of the first printed work on sport, a book nearly 500 years old, has woodcuts reminiscent of medieval liturgical art. A preponderance of the books deal with the life, literature and customs of England. There is a first edition of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and 16 volumes (including the first) published by William Caxton, England's first printer. No other private collector owns so many Caxtons. There are atlases printed in Elizabethan England (towns are marked but no roads), the first English book on architecture (1611), one of the earliest treatises on English gardens (c. 1645) and trade manuals and pattern books that workmen used in the 16th century. From these, local craftsmen learned how to carve or paint different birds, animals, plants and trees. Other volumes deal with the construction of stagecoaches, railroads, ceilings, furniture, porcelain; some record the travels of Englishmen and the sights they saw, from palace ruins on the Ganges to frontier Kansas City. In its diversity the library broadly documents 17th-, 18th-and 19th-century British culture, and this wealth of scholarship has been promised to Yale. In 1966 Mellon announced he would give the college the books, his British art collection and $12 million to build and maintain what will be known as the Paul Mellon Center for British Art and British Studies. (Earlier he donated several million dollars toward Yale's purchase of the Boswell papers.) The value of the British paintings and books was put at $35 million. But Mellon's desire to conserve historic and lovely things persists and, almost daily, additions are made to the Yale gift. When the Brick House was turned into a library and gallery several years ago, Mellon told the architect he would be buying very few more books—just put in a few extra shelves. Since then he has acquired so many additional books and paintings that he was forced to buy another house up the street from his Washington home, and now it too is filled. In storage arc most of his John Constable paintings (he owns 70) and many of his J.M.W. Turners (he has 30, a private collection that is unequaled). And four galleries in the museum are hung with Impressionist paintings on loan from the Mellons. An art critic and longtime Mellon friend once said, "Collecting is a kind of disease and thus, to some extent, evades rational examination."
Mellon's British art, more than 1,000 oils and more than 3,000 watercolors and drawings, rivals the British national collection hanging in the Tate. The Mellon pictures were first exhibited in 1963 at Virginia's Museum of Fine Arts, and The Times dispatched its art critic to Richmond. He reported enthusiastically, "This is a collection that has been made from both the head and the heart, brought together with intense personal feeling and pleasure."
The elegant portraits painted in the 18th century by Gainsborough and Romney do not appeal to Mellon. Instead, his taste is for the intimate landscapes and animal pictures, works of informality that reflect the country life of the period. In the early 1700s the first of the great country houses of England were built and the owners commissioned pictures to commemorate their estates, horses, dogs and servants. The tastes and enthusiasms of this gentry are chronicled in the Mellon collection. James Seymour's The Chaise Match (c. 1750), which hangs in the Mellon dining room in Upperville, commemorates a bet made by the Earl of March and the Earl of Eglintoun with an Irishman, Count Taafe. The earls wagered 1,000 guineas that a four-wheeled carriage with four horses and an occupant could be driven 19 miles in an hour. To win their wager they had a London coach builder design a special light chaise with a harness of silk. The horses took only 53 minutes 23 seconds to go the 19 miles.
The genre fascinates and absorbs Mellon—paintings that show farmyards, lanes, an archery meet, boys fishing, a man carrying faggots, a hunter with his groom, sportsmen with guns and dogs, bewigged gentlemen dining in their clubs, horse races, coursing parties. His collection ranges from William Hogarth to Turner, roughly 100 years. Mellon particularly likes the works of George Stubbs (1724-1806), who produced studies of horses that no artist has ever matched. He received as much for his thoroughbred portraits as Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds did to paint lords. And there were some noblemen who had Reynolds paint them and Stubbs their horse on the same canvas. So extraordinarily alive are Stubbs' thoroughbreds that a story is told of a stallion who charged the life-size portrait Stubbs was doing of him.
Mellon owns 35 of the artist's paintings and keeps them in the Brick House where he can see them often. Viewing them in this place of tranquillity, Mellon seems particularly happy. Two or three times a week he can be found in his private gallery and he gets wistful when he thinks of the pictures being shipped off to Yale. "Maybe they will let me keep a few of my favorites for a while," he says. The house is quiet and there is only his hesitating step on the wood floors. From the walls, a hound, head tilted, looks questioningly at Mellon. A broodmare whinnies after a foal. A disreputable 18th-century jockey casts a cold glance. Stable lads pose their horses.
Mellon goes to the second floor where he removes a green velvet rope from the entrance to a small room. Here are the finest pieces of his collection, including the wax models from which the Degas bronzes—ones that museums like the Metropolitan and the Louvre display and cherish—were cast. Degas said he would not take the responsibility of leaving anything behind him in bronze, that metal was for eternity. When he started losing his eyesight he began sculpting, and sought in clay and wax the angular beauty in the movement of horses and dancers. "A horse is a wonderful piece of mechanism," he once said. During his lifetime Degas exhibited only one of his sculptures, La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans. The wax ballerina outraged critics at the Impressionist Exhibit in Paris in 1881. Now she stands in Mellon's private museum.
The wax horses, Degas' fingerprints showing on their hides, lunge and gallop on the shelves of Mellon's gallery. Since he was a self-taught sculptor, Degas' figures sometimes cracked under his fingers, or limbs fell off. One of the wax horses has a broken neck, apparently suffered years ago in the artist's studio. Only a skeleton of wire sustains the head. A handyman at the farm, when he saw the horse, offered to fix it. Mellon thanked him but declined.
These marvelous waxes embody Mellon's two vital interests, art and horses. When the British books and paintings go to Yale, these will remain behind, not bad company for a retirement. Mellon talks about that time, of coming to Virginia permanently and settling in the paneled library with his books. The oars he won in his crewing days at Cambridge hang high on the wall. The trophies won by his thoroughbreds stand about. And a friend has given him an antique "gout" chair, in case he develops a game leg. He has bought himself a miniature stable—four horses stand in it. A groom sitting in a chair reads a newspaper. Bridles hang from pegs; buckets stand at a well; liniment bottles, brushes and currycombs lie on a counter. A light switches on in the loft and there are cats and mice, no bigger than a fingernail, scurrying through the straw. Mellon picks up inch-long rub rags that lie on the tack-room floor. "I must get these washed," he says, ever the fastidious horseman. This miniature world, so beautifully proportioned, charms Mellon.
Indeed, proportion is the prime quality he values—in art and nature and life. Some years ago Mellon spoke at a private-school graduation. He told the students "...There is an inherent duty [in life] to be aware, to do something, to care. The only thing that I want to add...is something I think many people tend to subtract. This is the element of, the principle of, pleasure.... To see, to hear, to smell, to taste, to feel—these are privileges all too often neglected, or even forgotten in our preoccupation with being students or writers or business people or lawyers or critics, or even mothers and fathers.... At least part of the purpose of life is enjoyment."
Personally, Paul Mellon seems to have achieved the balance he has sought in life, and if he has the pot of gold, he also has the rainbow.