Two Mellon Collections at the Frist

There’s only one thing more compelling than an exhibition of a collection of Paul and Bunny Mellon’s artwork, on loan from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts:

That would be two Mellon collections.

And the Frist Art Museum in Nashville will soon open them both.

One is Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, and Their Times: The Mellon Collection of French Art. The other is equally tantalizing: A Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art.

Each is enough to take a viewer’s breath away, but in different ways. The French collection of 73 paintings and sculptures may not be major works, but piffle!

“As a whole it, tells the story of French art from romanticism to cubism,” says Frist Art Museum Chief Curator Mark Scala. “Some are significant and some are studies – intimate portraits that reflect the collector’s interest in art and his own taste. It’s a self-portrait of the collector.”

As for the 69 paintings of the sporting art, who could challenge the drama of a single Degas painting of a steeplechase race? “It’s an interesting look at Mellon’s fascination for the idea of the landed gentry in the countryside,” he says. “He loved horses. It’s a different field that changes as you go from one painting to another.”

It’s about lifestyle, manners and customs of the aristocracy. “The British manners show up – the idea of customs and rituals of the hunt and the race – the status and the epitome and the standards that anyone in the country wants to aspire to – in Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, and the thoroughbreds from England,” he says. “It leans onto a historical moment that’s also exotic.”

But mostly, these two exhibitions are all about the collectors. “You get a sense for the Mellons’ connoisseurship and personal taste and the things that spoke to them on a personal level,” he says.

Not to mention their generosity in sharing them with the rest of us.

The exhibitions open Feb. 2 and close on May 5.

For more, go here.

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