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Great British Watercolors From Paul Mellon Collection
J.M.W. Turner's "Ingleborough from Chapel-Le-Dale" will be on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in "Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art." (Photo © Yale Center for British Art)

RICHMOND, VA.- The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will celebrate the centenary of the birth of one of its most important benefactors, the late Paul Mellon, with Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art. The exhibition will be on view at VMFA from July 11 to Sept. 30, 2007.

"Great British Watercolors" brings together 88 outstanding watercolors from the collection of Paul Mellon, including masterpieces by J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), John Constable (1776-1837), William Blake (1757-1827), Paul Sandby (1730/1-1809), Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) and Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), according to Dr. Mitchell Merling, VMFA's Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art.

"In all, 45 artists will be represented in a show that will span approximately 100 years - from the emergence of watercolor painting in the mid-18th century to its apogee in the late 19th century," he says.

The exhibition will highlight what Merling calls "the extraordinary diversity of British watercolor painting, showcasing both landscape and figurative works by some of the principal artists who worked in the medium."

The Yale Center for British Art houses more than 20,000 drawings and watercolors and the largest and most representative collection of British art on paper outside the United Kingdom. At its heart is Paul Mellon's collection.
Mellon, who died at the age of 91 in February 1999, was one of the greatest collectors of British art of the 20th century.

"His love of British watercolors began when he served on the committee for the groundbreaking 1959 VMFA exhibition 'Sport and the Horse' and met the art historian Basil Taylor," Merling says.

Mellon himself said it was Taylor "who opened up my eyes to the beauty and freshness of English drawings and watercolors, their immediacy and sureness of technique, their comprehensiveness of subject matter, their vital qualities, their Englishness."

During the next 30 years, Mellon acquired art on a massive scale, buying individual works personally and entire collections when they became available.

Throughout his life, Mellon supported three major U.S. museums: the Yale Center, VMFA and the National Gallery.

At the time of the Yale Center's opening in 1977, Mellon wrote "I have tried . . . to persuade scholars, critics and the public that British art is manifold, curiously happy and far more comprehensive than generally realized. And of a special order of excellence."

Mellon provided VMFA with six decades of advice and support and was a trustee longer than anyone else in the museum's history - 40 years. He gave the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts more than 2,000 works of art and made substantial gifts toward the construction of two additions to the museum's building, in 1954 and 1985.

"Without his support and patronage, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts collection and, indeed, the museum itself, would not be what it is today," says Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Chief Curator Dr. Joseph M. Dye III.

;Great British Watercolors from the Paul Mellon Collection at the Yale Center for British Art is being organized by the Yale Center as a tribute to Mellon's love of Virginia and his lifelong support of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Merling notes.

The exhibition's curators are Scott Wilcox, the Yale Center's curator of prints and drawings, and Matthew Hargraves, a research associate at the Yale Center.
It will be accompanied by a hardback catalogue with color reproductions of all 88 works in the exhibition.

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