Tuesday called for celebrations dedicated to founders of all stripes, including the Yale Center for British Art’s own Paul Mellon ’29 and his wife Bunny.
The centerpiece of “Founders Day” festivities at the YCBA was the opening of the appropriately dubbed “Founder’s Room” — located on the Center’s fourth floor — to the wider public, allowing visitors a glimpse into a space typically reserved for official functions, special occasions and museum staff meetings. Over the course of its Tuesday opening, YCBA Director Amy Meyers said that more than a hundred people visited the space.
“[Founders Day] is a special day, referencing, obviously, the founding of the University and Elihu Yale’s early contributions,” Meyers said. “But it gives us an opportunity to look to the founder of the Center as a very important part of Yale and to celebrate Paul Mellon as one of Yale’s most important benefactors.”
Various pieces of Mellon memorabilia are scattered about the room, including a silver platter thanking Mellon for his “distinguished services to [his] country and to Yale” and a table-size model of his Virginia home. Such mementos are interspersed with a baker’s dozen of oils and a large painted screen depicting a polo match, as well as bits of Mellon’s private library — a slew of leather-bound volumes spread across two cases, with titles like Milton’s “Paradise Lost.”
Meyers said that the space’s color scheme was a nod to Mellon’s love of horse racing, noting that the room’s two dominant hues — blue grey and dusty yellow — were Mellon’s racing colors. Pieces of furniture, such as the sofa and plush trio of armchairs that greet visitors upon entry, were commissioned, and antiques were brought from the Mellon’s personal collection to furnish the room, with the intention of creating a comfortable space for museum personnel and guests alike, Meyers added.
In 1999 — the final year of Mellon’s life — the Mellons’ personal decorator Bruce Budd helped the Center redesign the room, suggesting subtle changes that would make the space feel more domestic, as well as reflective of the couple’s personal style. The room was conceived as a more intimate space within the institution, Meyers explained, noting that the room offers a glimpse into the ways in which the Mellons incorporated pieces from their extensive collection into their daily lives.
Meyers noted that the room also serves as a fixture in the Center’s daily operations, adding that she spends many hours in the room every day.
“Really more than anything, it’s used as a space for important conversations: by scholars who visit us, by staff grappling with issues of running the Center,” she said. “It’s a kind of ‘think-tank’ space where we do the deep-thinking that makes the institution run.”
Visitor reactions to the Founder’s Room opening were positive. Stratford resident Rita Fitzsimmons said she did not know she would have access to the space when she visited the center, adding that she was glad to have had the opportunity to see the room.
“Obviously, the whole collection was [Mellon’s], and the pieces in the museum were donated by him, but this collection seems more personal … and it’s nice to kind of see into which bits of art he kept for himself,” added Eleanor Hutchinson, who stopped by the Center on Tuesday. “It just gives a little more history about him.”
The YCBA houses the largest collection of British art outside of the United Kingdom.