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An American Passion for British Art - RA (preview)

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THE ROYAL Academy is celebrating the centenary of the birth of Paul Mellon (1907 – 1999), one of the greatest collectors of British art, with an exhibition of major works from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art. An American Passion for British Art: Paul Mellon’s Legacy runs from October 20, 2007 to January 27, 2008.

The exhibition will present more than 150 works, including prints, drawings, paintings, rare books and manuscripts; and feature many objects that have not been seen by the British public since they were purchased. Also included will be major works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, Stubbs, Constable and Turner.

Paul Mellon was born in 1907, into one of the most powerful banking families in America. Together with the fellow Pittsburgh families of Carnegie and Frick, the Mellon family shared a strong commitment to public philanthropy. Paul Mellon’s interest in British culture ranged from horse breeding and racing to building the most significant private collection of British art outside the United Kingdom.

Mellon’s passion for British painting began in 1936 with his purchase of Stubbs’ Pumpkin with a Stable-lad. From 1959, with the help of English art historians Basil Taylor and John Baskett, he amassed a collection of British art from the fifteenth to the early twentieth century. In 1966, he bequeathed the majority of this collection to Yale University to establish the Yale Center for British Art.

Housed in the last building designed by the American architect Louis I. Kahn, which opened in 1977, the Center was complemented by the establishment in 1970 of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London. The Yale Center for British Art now comprises approximately 50,000 prints and drawings, 2,000 paintings, several hundred pieces of sculpture, and 35,000 rare books and manuscripts from Mellon’s collection.

The exhibition will include early Americana and exceptional rare books and manuscripts, including works by William Blake. Works range in scale from miniatures by Hilliard and small-scale works on paper to large-scale oil paintings.

The representative collection of great British watercolours includes paintings by JR Cozens, Thomas Girtin, Richard Parkes Bonington and Paul Sandby; while the oil paintings featured include works by Reynolds, Gainsborough, Constable, Canaletto, Hogarth and Turner’s outstanding marine painting, Dort or Dordrecht: The Dort Packet-Boat from Rotterdam Becalmed (pictured) which will be seen in the UK for the first time since it was purchased in 1966.

The exhibition will illuminate Mellon’s remarkable vision in creating an institution in North America that serves both as a public museum of British art and as a research institute. On his death in 1999, Mellon left important bequests to major British institutions These included the Royal Academy of Art.

An American Passion for British Art: Paul Mellon’s Legacy is sponsored by the Bank of New York Mellon Corporation.

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD.

Admission: £7; £6 – Registered Disabled and seniors; £5 – NUS/ISIC cardholders; £3 – 12 to 18 years and Income Support; £2 – 8 to 11 years; free – 7 and under.

Times: 10am to 6pm daily (last admission 5.30pm); Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm).

For more information call 020 7300 8000 or visit the website.