Andrew Mellon and Duplicity

Portrait of Andrew Mellon at National Gallery of Art
Portrait of Andrew Mellon at National Gallery of Art

I saw the movie Duplicity last night and it reminded me of some espionage in the art world. The book Mellon: An American Life by Professor David Cannadine conveys how art dealer Joseph Duveen bribed household help to find out what Andrew Mellon, banker, Treasury Secretary and benefactor of the National Gallery thought about recent or future art acquisitions. In addition, Duveen gained access to Mellon’s trash to garner more details.

“Mellon had been quite correct in surmising earlier that Duveen had bribed members of his household: Duveen continued to do so through the Washington years. It was also rumored that an underling at the Treasury was in his pay, and that the contents of Mellon’s wastebasket were forwarded to the Duveen salesrooms in New York on a regular basis.”

Duveen, however, didn’t get the best of Mellon. On occasions Mellon would purchase paintings, send them back and re-purchase them for less later. The book is filled with many other interesting accounts surrounding the accumulation of one of the best art collections ever. It’s a very worthy read.

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage. When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city. With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s. The result will be a book with a video component. We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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