Paul Mellon’s love of horses shines in latest Frick Pittsburgh exhibit
The horses appear to be in motion. It’s as if they will gallop right off the wall.
The paintings of these beautiful animals adorn the gallery of the Frick Art Museum in Point Breeze.
They are part of “A Sporting Vision: The Paul Mellon Collection of British Sporting Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.”
The exhibit includes more than 80 paintings that collectively transport the viewer to the English countryside, and give an in-depth immersion in the country pursuits that Pittsburgh-born Paul Mellon (1907–1999) loved, according to a news release.
“A Sporting Vision” is the second half of Paul and Bunny Mellon’s collection which was showcased in 2018 at the Frick. “Van Gogh, Monet, Degas: The Mellon Collection of French Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts” was so popular it was extended an additional week. “A Sporting Vision” runs through Sept. 8.
“Paul Mellon developed a love of horses, including an interest in fox hunting, when he was studying at the University of Cambridge (in England),” Sarah Hall, chief curator, director of collections for the Frick, says. “This collection was truly Paul’s collection.”
The enduring appeal and beauty of rural life is reflected in these paintings, which were created beginning around 1700 and span more than 200 years. The works often feature specific portraits of beloved horses, dogs and their owners who commissioned the works, according to a news release.
Paul Mellon is quoted as saying in 1936 that “hunting is another example of the reaction which has set up inside me against business, the city, modern industrial drabness, the suppression of the natural emotions and feelings. It involves the use of the horse, that instinctive animal and man’s mastery of the horse.”
His first purchase
Mellon’s first acquisition was from George Stubbs, an accomplished painter whose intensive studies of anatomy included the dissection of horses, Hall says. Mellon paid $5,000 in 1936 for the piece entitled “Pumpkin with a Stable-lad,” which is now part of the collection at the Yale Center for British Art in Connecticut.
Stubbs, whose work is displayed in a special section opening the exhibition, made detailed drawings of horses from three different perspectives – front, back and side, Hall says.
Stubbs (1724-1806) studied the anatomy of the horse with the same care and curiosity that drove Renaissance artists to study human anatomy, according to Hall.
“George Stubbs took horse anatomy seriously,” Hall says. “He grew up around animals, dissected horses and knew how to work with cadavers. His accomplished etchings are in proportion if you take a close look at them.”
As visitors walk through the gallery, they will enter a section called “In Pursuit,” which showcases actual settings of fox hunting. They will see the transition as the sport goes from small gatherings to a larger community affair, Hall says.
The works illustrate the evolution of the hunt and its social impact over almost two hundred years, from the 1730s to the 1920s.
Fox hunting was one of Mellon’s favorite pastimes. He hunted for more than 50 years in England and the United States.
The section “In Motion,” focuses on images of horse racing and coaching and features works by Stubbs’ predecessors, John Wootton (1682-1765) and Peter Tillemans (1684-1734), among others, who sought to express both the beauty of the new thoroughbred horses and their speed and agility, according to a news release.
The “Animal, Man, Country” section includes images of country life, families in the landscape and a variety of livestock and wildlife. “The World Upside Down” section features a number of works depicting riders’ falls and comic mishaps.
The exhibit concludes with a novelty painting by Phillip Reinagle (1749-1833) “Portrait of an Extraordinary Musical Dog.”
“A Sporting Vision” is organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Major exhibition program support is provided by the Richard King Mellon Foundation, with additional support from the Allegheny Foundation.
An illustrated, hardcover exhibition catalogue published by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is available at the Frick Museum store for $30, or $27 for members.
In the foreword, Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, writes that the exhibition is a vision of extraordinary focus and breadth from a single collector, come to life.
“We are honored to present these works in esteemed venues around the world,” Nyerges says.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .