Edgar Degas, auto-portrait
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Edgar Degas        1834-1917
The digital critical catalogue
by Michel Schulman

Country Life : Masterpieces of the Paul Mellon Collection now in Paris

Until December 2018, the musée de la Chasse et de la Nature exhibits a selection of masterpieces of the Paul Mellon Collection from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. A look at art but also at a collector's taste and way of life.

Country Life is both a horse incantation but also the story of a personal passion, that of Paul Mellon. This is what is written in the preface to Claude d'Anthenaise, curator of the exhibition (with Karen Chastagnol): "We had to make a selection among the masterpieces that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts generously agreed to lend for this event.

The Museum of Hunting and Nature has sought to evoke the history of a genre but also to draw the portrait of the man who gathered them. "About forty works are presented through which we actually perceive the main idea of this collection: the love of the horse, but none of this would have been possible without the passion of a man, Paul Mellon, who has its roots in the industrial society of the late nineteenth century. For the horses was at first the prerogative of the English society but extended then on the east coast of the United States. Frequenting the equestrian world had become, on the other hand of the Atlantic, the mark of a social success and show on the race fields its essential extension.

But Paul Mellon does not start until much later collecting works of art. These are the rare books that interest him first. And his passion for painting, especially for impressionism, he owes to his second wife Bunny who pushes him to acquire the works that now form his collection. She turns her gaze away from "traditional" painting in favor of a more modern and contemporary painting. But Paul Mellon is a figure that seems original. Some acquisitions provide proof. As Mitchell Merling, curator of the Mellon collection, points out, he was fond of small paintings "for their intimacy and their human dimension". It was therefore necessary to choose the paintings currently exhibited in Paris.

Before mentioning Degas, let us take a moment to look at the works on display. Stubbs reigns - almost - as master but other lesser-known painters do not fail to seduce us: Davis, Grant, Herring, Marshall (with three magnificent paintings), Munnings, Ross, Ward and Wootton, to name only them. We also note two Princeteau, a Bonnard and a Raoul Dufy, whose acquisition shows that Paul Mellon was sensitive to other forms of art.

Jockey in blue

And Degas? Two works: Jockey in blue and At the races before the departure crossed the Atlantic. The most original is certainly Jockey in blue. Admittedly, it is not masterful but shows that Paul Mellon had a refined perception of the horse. We can feel the movement of the jockey mastering his horse, directing him towards the path that sneers in the distance. There is a kind of similarity between the contortion of the horse and that, so to speak, of the path in the distance. Besides, there is no doubt that it is where he is heading. Everything is in motion because the landscape is barely drawn. Only a few colors. No detail. It is the horse, alone, the subject of the painting. Intimate collection, intimate hanging. The museum has chosen boxes to present the paintings. Far from Richmond, the horses will not be disoriented!

Country Life: Masterpieces from the Mellon Collection of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

From September 4 to December 2, 2018


Publication : 24-09-2018