Paul Mellon's Legacy

Portrait of Paul Mellon by Tim O'Kane

Paul Mellon's Life

Paul Mellon was born in Pittsburgh on June 11, 1907, the son of financier and industrialist Andrew W. Mellon and Nora McMullen, his English wife. A child of enormous wealth, Paul Mellon grew up in Pittsburgh and attended Choate Preparatory School in Connecticut. After graduating from Yale University in 1929, Mellon went to England to study at Cambridge University. While in England, Mellon developed an appreciation for British art and culture and a taste for foxhunting and racing thoroughbreds-interests he continued to pursue throughout his life. In 1935, he married Mary Conover Brown. Early in their marriage, the Mellons moved from Pittsburgh to a farm in northern Virginia, which remained Mellon's primary residence. After Mary's death in 1946, he married Rachel "Bunny" Lambert Lloyd.

Oak Spring, the Mellons' home in Upperville, Virginia

After his father's death in 1937, Paul Mellon turned away from his family's world of business and made philanthropy his extraordinary legacy. Over his lifetime, Mellon gave nearly a billion dollars to museums and other causes ranging from public health to the environment.

Mellon with his father, Andrew, at Clare College, Cambridge, 1931

Paul Mellon was a passionate collector of the original and authentic. He developed a taste for beautiful and rare things early in life. In his autobiography, Reflections in a Silver Spoon, he describes the pleasure of growing up surrounded by paintings in his father's renowned art collection, which later formed the nucleus of the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Though probably best known for his art collecting, Paul Mellon also collected rare books and manuscripts, especially original documents of American history and beautifully illustrated works. On February 1, 1999, Mellon died at his home in Upperville, Virginia. Paul Mellon's private passions for collecting art and books have become one of his public legacies.

Mellon, Paul, with John Baskett. Reflections in a Silver Spoon: A Memoir. New York: William Morrow, 1992. Paul Mellon, with his dog, Patrick, in front of Cornflower.

Paul Mellon's Bequest

Paul Mellon's will stipulated that his collection of books and manuscripts be divided equally among Yale University, the Virginia Historical Society, and the University of Virginia. Mellon wanted to ensure that his books and manuscripts be given to institutions where they could best serve scholarship and be accessible to the general public.

The Brick House, where Mellon housed his library

Executors of Paul Mellon's estate developed a procedure for dividing the collection, with the assistance of William Reese, a noted dealer of Americana. The three institutions were given a list of the 1,827 items in Mellon's library. Staff at the University of Virginia. Library compared items in Mellon's library with existing holdings to identify duplicates. Next, staff were asked to rank all items that were not duplicates on a scale from one to five (with five being most desired), keeping roughly an equal amount in each category. In addition to this list, the Library submitted a list of its top ten items. Although staff were instructed not to request duplicates, in two cases, they made successful arguments for items already in the collections-the 1814 edition of Lewis and Clark's journals and the 1784-85 edition of Jefferson's Notes of the State of Virginia. The Mellon copies of these books have unique features: the journals are bound in their original boards and Notes on the State contains an inscription from Jefferson to his friend David Rittenhouse. Both of these items are on display in the exhibit.

Paul Mellon on his pony, Hotspur, 1920

The University of Virginia Library received seven items from its top ten list including the most desired item-Jefferson's "fire-bell in the night" letter. The Library received a total of 447 books and manuscripts from Paul Mellon's estate in May 2000.

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