America’s National Gallery of Art
By Phillip Kopper & The Publishing Office of
The National Gallery of Art, Washington
Princeton University Press – £62.95
The dedication of this Gallery to a living past, and to a greater and more richly living future, is the message of the earnestness of our intention that the freedom of the human spirit shall go on.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1941
Very lavish and very well presented, there really ought to be more books put together like this; or indeed, more books covering an array of varying subjects within the arts.
Replete with an assortment of simply stunning as well as startling, colour and black and white photographs, these 350 pages – excluding: Benefactors 1937-2016, Trustees and Directors of the National Gallery of Art 1937-2016, Current and Former Trustees’ Council Members 1982-2016, Acknowledgements, Selected References and Index (while the penultimate pages prior to the above is A Visual Timeline, four-page pull-out) – are a more than fitting nod to a (seemingly) former way of American life.
An intrinsically wholesome, organic way of life, that is sadly, not to mention criminally on the wane throughout the country.
That said, in celebration of the 75th anniversary of a beloved cultural institution, America’s National Gallery of Art takes curious readers on a definitive inside tour through this very special museum’s remarkable history.
By way of lively prose and abundant illustrations, this richly detailed volume recounts the development of the Gallery under its four directors – David Finley, John Walker, J. Carter Brown, and currently Earl A. Powell III. In so doing, it invariably highlights the museum’s collections, exhibitions, architecture, and rather awe inspired ambience.
An ‘inspired ambience’ that was, and surely remains something of a trajectory in relation its altogether majestic founder, Andrew W. Mellon. A man whose life (as explained in the chapter ‘The First Fifty Years’) spanned: ”the abolition of slavery and invention of television, the building of the first bridge across the Mississippi and construction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and Walt Disney’s Snow White, the Dred Scott decision and the New Deal.”
No surprise(s) then, that Mellon was born the same year as the Paris Exposition exalted Delacroix, and died the year Picasso painted Guernica.
To be sure, the man was as faceted as that of his era: an industrialist, a financial genius and a philanthropist of gargantuan generosity. Born into prosperous circumstances, he launched several of America’s most profitable corporations. He was therefore, a venture capitalist before the term had even entered the lexicon (eventually becoming one of the country’s richest men). Yet his name was barely known outside his hometown of Pittsburgh – until that is, he became secretary of the treasury at an age when many men consider retiring.
Moreover, Mellon was a man of myriad accomplishments, but he is perhaps, ultimately remembered for one: he founded an art museum by making what was thought at the time to be the single largest gift by any individual to any nation. Few philanthropic acts of such generosity have been performed with his combination of vision, patriotism, and modesty. Fewer still bear anything but their donor’s name; although Mellon stipulated that his museum be called the National Gallery of Art.
Could you imagine Donald Trump being as remotely magnanimous?
In fact, one cannot help but wonder if Trump would have it in him to be even a tenth as giving and generous?
Divided into four distinct sections: The First Fifty Years (with chapters including the aforementioned ‘Andrew W. Mellon: Founder and Benefactor,’ ‘The National Gallery’s War Record’ and ‘J. Carter Brown Launches the East Building’), Framing the Future (‘The Powell Era,’The Physical Museum,’ ‘Mission Expanded,’ ‘Corcoran Collection’ and ‘Growing the Collection’), The Collection (‘Selected acquisitions since 1937’) and Exhibitions (‘Special exhibitions since 1973’), this altogether encompassing collection marks a published return to beauty, elegance and grace.
Qualities so sorely missing amid so many publications of this persuasion.
Suffice to say, later chapters explore the Gallery’s new emphasis on contemporary art and its historic 2014 agreement to accept custody of the Corcoran Collection, thus giving readers and visitors a window onto the future of this national treasure.
With even the quality of the pages being something to behold, this veritable tomb comes in a protective box; which, along with the aforementioned lively prose and 730 illustrations, is what fundamentally accounts for America’s National Gallery of Art aligning readers and art lovers (in general) with a most pronounced visionary acceptance of how art really ought to be appreciated.