Featuring more than seventy works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of nineteenth and early twentieth-century French art to the VMFA. After first becoming interested in British sporting art, Paul Mellon began to collect nineteenth-century French art in the 1940s with his second wife, Rachel Lambert Mellon. While their collection largely consists of Impressionist paintings, it also includes masterpieces from every important school of French art—from Romanticism and the Barbizon School through Cubism and the School of Paris. Taken together, these works exemplify the Mellons’ personal vision and highly original collecting strategies, which provide a context for understanding this unique collection.
The exhibition will reproduce the invigorating experience of the Mellons’ collection, in which each work resonates with and gains greater strength from its lovingly created context. Van Gogh, Monet, Degas is presented in a series of sections including Cyphers of Modernity, Horses, Flowers, Views of Paris, People, Water, Interiors and Tables, The French Countryside, The Transformation of the Ordinary and VMFA: Toward Impressionism. Opening with Cyphers of Modernity, visitors will be introduced to two of the collection’s most characteristic paintings: Berthe Morisot’s Young Woman Watering a Shrub and Théodore Géricault’s Mounted Jockey. These paintings are emblematic of the collection in their commitment to modernism, as well as their subject matter, which appealed to Mrs. Mellon’s love of gardening and Mr. Mellon’s passion for horses and horseracing.
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