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Frist Art Museum Presents Companion Exhibitions of French and British Masterpieces from the Mellon Collection

NASHVILLE, TN – The Frist Art Museum presents Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Their Times: The Mellon Collection of French Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and A Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The two exhibitions will be on display from February 2 through May 5, 2019.
Representing the extraordinary gifts made to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) by Paul and Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon, the exhibitions include works by some of the most significant artists working in France and England in the 18th through 20th centuries and celebrate the connoisseurship of one of the great philanthropic and collecting couples of the 20th century.

Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Their Times:
The Mellon Collection of French Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Offering more than seventy works by masters such as Edgar Degas, Eugène Delacroix, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, and Vincent van Gogh, this exhibition provides consummate examples of 19th and early 20th century French art. With its core of Impressionist paintings, the collection also comprises masterpieces from every important school of French art, from Romanticism and Impressionism to Cubism. These works represent more than 150 years of French art and exemplify the Mellons’ personal vision and highly original strategies, which provide a context for understanding this unique collection of French art.

“In addition to acquiring canonical works by modern masters, the Mellons had an eye for their more intimate creations,” says Frist Art Museum chief curator Mark Scala. “Mr. Mellon wrote, ‘My own feeling is that size has nothing to do with the quality and importance of a work of art, just as a preliminary drawing or sketches in oil or pastel often have an immediacy and an emotional appeal far greater than the final canvas.’”

Paul Mellon was the son of industrialist, banker, and politician Andrew Mellon, himself a distinguished art collector and benefactor who was instrumental in the creation of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 1937. Over the years, Paul Mellon donated more than a thousand works from his father’s collection and his own to the National Gallery.
Bunny Mellon was both an art aficionado and a devoted Francophile. After the Mellons married, they began to acquire French works from the 19th and 20th centuries. While many were given or bequeathed to the National Gallery, Paul Mellon donated selections from the French collection to the VMFA—where he was a longtime trustee—along with major gifts of British and American art.

The exhibition is organized thematically and includes sections on French equestrian art, human figures and portraits, and Impressionist and Post-Impressionist landscapes. The final section, titled “The Transformation of the Ordinary,” contains large, iconic paintings that stand out from the intimate sensibility of the rest of the collection. “These large works indicate the bold directions that modern art would take in the 20th century,” says Scala. “Rousseau’s Tropical Landscape (1910) anticipates the Expressionist and Surrealist notions that nonacademic art, folk expressions in particular, contained a fundamental truth about humanity’s natural condition. The latest work in the exhibition, Picasso’s Cubist still life The Chinese Chest of Drawers (1953), typifies the avant-garde’s willingness to break down preconceived notions and stylistic boundaries in pursuit of new expressions.”

A Sporting Vision:
The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
With representative masterpieces of the sporting art genre from the 18th through the 20th century—including works by Sir Francis Grant, John Frederick Herring, Benjamin Marshall, George Morland, and George Stubbs—this outstanding collection of more than sixty-five works set in pastoral environments features depictions of horse racing, hunting, fishing, and farming. “The works are charming in their own right and also serve as windows into the world of the rural English gentry—its class structures, customs, and diversions,” says Scala.

A Sporting Vision proposes a fresh look at sporting art within wider social and artistic contexts, including the scientific and industrial revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, the transformation of the British countryside, the treatment of horses and other animals, and society’s changing habits and customs.

A graduate both of Yale College and the University of Cambridge in England, Paul Mellon developed an interest in British art that would continue throughout his life. Mellon admired and often emulated the lifestyle and traditions of the landed gentry in England and had an abiding passion for fox hunting and training thoroughbreds. In 1966, he funded the establishment of the Yale Center for British Art, to which he gave a vast collection of artworks and rare books.

The exhibition is organized thematically and introduces the genre through the career of George Stubbs, who is considered the greatest practitioner of British sporting art and renowned for the elegant naturalism of his animal portraits.

The section “In Pursuit” includes paintings of hunting, shooting, and fishing by Sir Francis Grant, Benjamin Marshall, Sir Alfred Munnings and others that illustrate the evolution of the hunt and its social impact over almost two hundred years. “In Motion” is dedicated to racing and carriage horses, including John Wootton’s monumental depictions of Arabian stallions. “Animal, Man, Country” examines representations of human and animal relationships to each other and to their environment and includes works commissioned to record specialized breeding practices and natural history, such as George Garrard’s A Barbary Antelope and a Black Swan (1811). The final section, “The World Upside Down,” shows humorous pratfalls occurring during outdoor pursuits that encourage a view of sport as free play, where anything can happen.

For additional information, call 615.244.3340 or visit

Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890). The Wheat Field behind St. Paul’s Hospital, St. Rémy, 1889. Oil on canvas, 9 1/2 x 12 3/4 in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 83.26. © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Photo: Katherine Wetzel