Mellon gave billions without demanding naming rights

By | January 4th, 2012 | No Comments
National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art, the house that Andrew W. Mellon built.

In the wake of real estate developer Jorge Perez’s controversial donation to the Miami Art Museum — $20 million in cash and another $15 million in art with the stipulation that the museum change its name, in perpetuity, to the Jorge M. PĂ©rez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County — Eye On Miami tells the very different story behind the founding of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Written by David A. Doheny, author of David Finley, Quiet Force for America’s Arts, the post tells how, 75 years ago, the banker, industrialist, and former Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon wrote a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt in which he offered to fund the creation of a world-class art gallery on the National Mall and donate his entire art collection, “consisting of many masterpieces from the Italian renaissance, plus iconic Flemish, Dutch, British, and American paintings from the 15th to the 19th centuries and 31 pieces of classical sculpture. The value of the whole gift is estimated at $80 million, or least $10 billion in today’s dollars.”

Mellon’s gift came with the strict stipulation that the gallery not bear his name, Doheny writes, and not because “the National Mellon” would be an international embarrassment. To learn why he eschewed naming rights in exchange for what may still be “the largest gift ever made to a government from any single individual”, read the full post on Eye On Miami.

Considering many have attributed the “MAM not PAM” uproar to Anglo Miami’s reluctance to see a Hispanic name on the city’s major arts institution, the Mellon comparison may only fuel the fire. Regardless of whether it is relevant to Perez’s donation — personally, I’d find a modern-day instance of Mellon-esque generosity more compelling — it is nonetheless an interesting slice of American art history.

To read more about the Perez controversy, which broke out amid the deafening hubbub of Art Basel weekend, check out our coverage of the issue from early December.

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