Mellon, Paul

Paul Mellon (1907-1999) was a wealthy philanthropist who donated nearly $1 billion in support of the fine arts. He and his father, banker/industrialist Andrew W. Mellon, built the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Paul and wife "Bunny"? donated their collections and made bequests to The National Gallery of Art, the Yale Center for British Art, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. His collection of rare historical books and manuscripts, including original American historical documents like an 1814 Lewis and Clark journal, made his contributions personal.

Biographical Highlights

Paul Mellon (1907-1999) was born to the wealthy banker/industrialist Andrew W. Mellon and Englishwoman Nora McMullen on 11 June 1907, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Paul grew up in Pittsburgh and, until age twelve, attended one of its finest elementary schools, Shady Side Academy. He then moved on to Choate Preparatory School in Connecticut, and later to Yale and Cambridge universities. During his studies in England, away from the drudgery of work at his father's bank, he grew appreciably in his scholarly interests and pursued the business of publishing. As his interests continued to expand, Paul took a liking to foxhunting and thoroughbred racing. In 1935, he married his first of two wives, Mary Conover Brown. He was faced with the tragedy of her death just over a decade later in 1946. His second wife, Rachel Lambert Lloyd, or "Bunny," would remain with him until his death in 1999.

A significant turning point in the life of Paul Mellon was the death of his father in 1937. After his father's death, Paul's life became more reflective of his own unique interests. No longer subject to his Father's demands, he first returned to his love of literature at St. John's College. He remained there only a year, however, before he joined the army as part of the cavalry.

His legacy of philanthropy in the fine arts also began to form around this time. The collections and bequests given to The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Yale Center for British Art, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts are among his most significant achievements. His degree of giving is presumed to have approached nearly a billion dollars. Yet, it was his collection of rare historical books and manuscripts, including original American historical documents like an 1814 Lewis and Clark journal, which made his contributions truly distinctive and personal. Paul Mellon died in Upperville, Virginia, on 1 February 1999.

Historic Roots

One cannot begin to speak of Paul Mellon without discussing the significance of his grandfather and father in his life. His grandfather, Judge Thomas Mellon, was an Irish immigrant whose life could best be characterized in his own words: "The normal condition of man is hard work, self-denial, acquisition and accumulation; and as soon as his descendants are freed from the necessity of such exertion they begin to degenerate sooner or later in both body and mind" (Hersh 1978, 19). Judge Mellon's character set of the "normal condition of man" would most certainly find the latter two attributes, acquisition and accumulation, existent in Paul Mellon, the collector. Yet, the former two attributes, hard work and self-denial, appear to have evaded Paul, the dilettante.

Still, Judge Mellon's life reflected a man dedicated to public service where those things "which stirred him deeply, he wished to make as widely available to everyone as possible" (Chaddock 1999, 18). By comparing Paul with the two Mellon men who preceded him, it is apparent his philanthropy certainly showed glimpses of a salient Mellonian attribute. After looking at how the wealth in the Mellon family came to exist, Paul's mindfulness in sharing it provides the understanding of how these three Mellon men approached their select occupations. To be sure, Deborah Ziska, a spokeswoman for the National Museum of Art, upon receiving his generous bequest comments, "There are three words we heard a lot [which described Paul Mellon], generous, thoughtful, and meticulous" (Hanchette 1999, 24).

How did the Mellons come to acquire such wealth? And how would that shape the motivations of Paul Mellon's philanthropy? In what could be called the height of the building of a Mellon empire, Andrew Mellon, Paul's father, controlled major percentages of a number of industries: Gulf Oil, the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), Carborundum (garbage disposals, refrigeration, air-conditioning, among others), Koppers (tar, asphalt, piston rings, railroad ties, coke ovens and blast furnaces), and the National Bank & Trust Co. (which became Mellon National Bank). These were the Mellon's "five gems," the largest fortune ever passed from a father to a son (Hoffman 1974, 9-17).

(Judge) Thomas Mellon was born in Camp Hill, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland in 1813. He was a stern, erudite lawyer who lived out his beliefs. The Judge was a determined legalist with a heart that spoke to the popular "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" Protestant mentality of his day. He saw his sons as "miniature businessmen, and molded them in that direction from their earliest days" (Koskeff 1951, 23). He could commonly be found criticizing public education and the deterioration of society due to its negative teachings. Most assuredly, Judge Mellon's tenacity and mindfulness in rearing his children shaped his most precocious son, Andrew.

Judge Mellon's wife, Sarah Jane Negley, was a sort of "rigid, aloof, indifferent sort" who caught his attention right away (Hersh 1978, 47). They went on to have eight children, three of whom died fairly early. Thomas, James, Andrew, Richard and George would remain. Sarah Emma, Annie Rebecca, and Samuel Selwyn all died before the age of ten. This left Judge Mellon five boys out of which, one, Andrew W. Mellon, born in 1855, would unmistakably become the "Anointed Son" (Ibid., 1).

Judge Mellon opened T. Mellon & Sons Bank and Andrew's attention was engaged. In 1877, Andrew met Henry Clay Frick, a bank client. While Mellon and Frick traveled through Europe and entertained their love and appreciation for fine art (Holbrook 1953, 215), they were also, with their millions, shaping our nation's economy. Frick, who had already become a millionaire from coke ovens, partnered with A. W. Mellon, thus creating a powerful team.

Union Trust and Union Steel were booming when Andrew decided to marry. Nora McMullen, an Englishwoman, would not stay married long to Andrew. Yet, their marriage produced two children, Ailsa and Paul in 1901 and 1907, respectively. For Paul, this conflict of having to alternate between the attentions of his two parents became a source of antagonism to his strictly business-minded father. The inattention and disaffection received from his father contrasted with the love and care from his mother, drawing Paul even further away from the business world which his father epitomized.

Spindletop was a gusher out of Texas which became one of the most productive oil deposits in the country. In 1901, the Mellons ventured into the oil business when Pittsburgh oil speculators, Guffey and Gale, needed to borrow money from the Mellon Bank to fund their venture. Not shortly thereafter, they ceased the ability to retain control of the stock, were expunged, and subsequently Gulf Oil emerged (Hoffman 1974, 42). Questionable in practice, Andrew was not living in accordance with Thomas' family dictum: "Honesty is the best policy" (O'Connor 1933, 41).

The Mellon fortune spanned many industries including, "real estate, money lending, steel, railroad equipment, oil, coal and its myriad byproducts, aluminum, carborundum, utilities" (Ibid., 362). Simultaneously, the Mellon fortune caused corruption in many countries. Angola, Mozambique, Iran, Kuwait, and Venezuela were all adversely affected due to the direct and indirect activities of Gulf Oil (Hoffman 1974, 98). These factors illuminate how Andrew Mellon moved from millionaire to billionaire.

Andrew Mellon power and influence became evident as he was elected Secretary of the Treasury spouting, "the government is just a business" (Ibid., 45). Mellon was lauded by The New York Times as "the greatest Secretary of the Treasury since Alexander Hamilton" (Ibid., 47). Though, his manipulation of finances in his favor caused the stock market to crash (Ibid., 49) and, in 1934, Mellon was indicted on "defrauding the government" (Hersh 1978, 317). Yet, he would walk away unscathed.

Paul, born an already well-to-do heir of this considerable fortune, did not have it in his mind to thrive in business in the manner of his father. Paul's motivations were altogether different. His philanthropy developed out of the same appreciation of fine art his father possessed. It would, however, become quite his own. Capturing the honesty out of which Paul's philanthropy came, his memoirs entitled, Reflections in a Silver Spoon, provide his thoughts, "Every man wants to connect his life with something he thinks eternal" (Mellon 1992, 297).

Prior to the death of Andrew Mellon, Paul battled for his identity and autonomy. This time of intense struggle, exacerbated by his father's relentless efforts to have him participate in the affairs of the family business, proved beneficial to his achievements in literary scholarship. Publishing caught his attention while still at Choate and at Yale Paul was "awarded the chief prize for his excellence in English literature" (O'Connor 1933, 359). Later, he even worked for a major publishing firm in the East.

Then Andrew Mellon died. In 1937, Andrew Mellon and everything that he had built would be passed on to his newlywed son, Paul. The next few years could be considered historically dense as the enormity of the Mellon fortune passed from one hand to another. The relationships Paul had developed, at the time, greatly influenced the direction of some of this fortune. One of those influences came through the relationship he had with his wife of two years, Mary Conover Brown.

During the time of this first marriage, the Bollingen and Old Dominion Foundations were established and a significant new acquaintance was made with C.G. Jung, a prominent doctor in Zurich and a well-known scholar. The Mellons first became acquainted with Jung during a consultation for Mary's asthma. The Bollingen Foundation, named for a village of Jung's, was established for the publication and dissemination of scholarly works in areas Paul found of interest. The foundation contributed to a series of books, two of which have been the I Ching, a well-received book on the teachings of Confucius, and the "Andrew Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts," representing two areas of scholarship which meant much to Paul, Jungian thought and fine arts. The other foundation Paul established was Old Dominion. It served Yale University, in particular, by establishing additional schools pertaining to the liberal arts. Old Dominion's establishment was grounded in the value of a quality liberal arts education.

Besides the influences which came out of Paul's relationships with Jung and his wife Mary, Paul was developing his own sense of philanthropy. Beginning with the bequest and establishment of the Andrew Mellon Collection at The National Gallery, Paul's continued invested guidance would follow as he assumed directorship four years later. Also around this time, Paul returned to his first love, literature, through his enrollment at St. John's College. While this would only last a year until he felt encouraged to join the cavalry at Fort Riley, his own unique interests were emerging. After sharing eleven years together, Paul suffered the unfortunate tragedy of Mary's death in 1946.

Paul's life had already changed quite a bit since the death of his father. He had pursued unique interests which epitomized the Paul Mellon lifestyle, including taking up foxhunting and racing thoroughbreds. He even found new love and remarried. Paul and his new wife, "Bunny," married in 1948. While carving out a unique life for himself, his art collections also grew. He built up quite a collection of British Art which mostly went to his alma mater, Yale University, in the form of the Center for British Art with the remaining portion going to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. Not forgetting his childhood alma mater, he contracted the famous architect I.M. Pei to help design and build The Paul Mellon Arts Center at Choate Preparatory School. It was dedicated in 1972.

His love of both visual art and rare historic books and manuscripts converged with his fondness for William Blake, a poet known for his words and accompanying sketches. Paul's "Private Passions" found in this collection of rare and historic books and manuscripts was yet another bequest which was made personally to the Alderman Library at the University of Virginia. His love of literature and artwork is evident in such bequests, meant to keep his collection pieces available to scholars and the public.

Though his philanthropic legacy remains very personal, Paul Mellon's history is very connected to the story of his father and grandfather - the mindfulness out of which each built his empire. The Mellons preceding Paul approached each financial transaction very thoughtfully and quite tactfully. Paul's execution in building his empire, found in his collections, was carried out in much the same manner. So when he chose a Degas, Matisse, Van Gogh, Renoir or any other piece of artwork or literature, Mellon was living out that same family tradition of empire building.

Interestingly, the Mellons kept much to themselves. Many, in fact, say that this family paid to keep their names out of the news so as to avoid any incrimination in business matters. The power the Mellons had over the media could be regarded as a significant factor in protecting the anonymity of their personal lives. For example, that "Gulf was the National Broadcasting Company's sole sponsor for the network's coverage of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions in 1972" gives an understanding of the extent to which the Mellons owned the media (Hoffman 1974, 128). This privacy may have been easily had with the family's great amassed fortune. Only one of their many assets, Gulf Oil, grew within five years (1965 to 1970) from holdings of $4 billion to $9 billion.

Biographical author Hoffman sardonically caricatures the generations: "Old Judge Mellon, grasping, bigoted, narrow-minded.Andrew, shrewd, unprincipled, powerful.Paul, cultured, lazy, hedonistic" (1974, 63). The one trait they apparently all shared was their mindfulness . In this way, Paul was not so different from his father and grandfather, excepting his charismatic philanthropy that set him apart.

Paul's two children from his first marriage were Catherine and Timothy. Catherine married and had three children with John Warner, Jr., a prominent political figure whom she later divorced. Timothy married Susan C. Tracy and never had children. Most notable of Paul and "Bunny's" children, Eliza, was given a one million dollar "debutante" party by her father. There has been a striking diversity in lifestyle and profession among the Mellons that followed Paul's generation. Among the nieces, nephews, and cousins were medical missionaries, entrepreneurs and expert polo players. Though probably the most famous, Billy Hitchcock, entered the public eye because of his involvement with Timothy Leary and his infamous LSD experiments.


Paul Mellon provided the public and scholars access to a number of unique collections and historically significant works. His hope was to share with others those things in which he found meaning. His fondness for British literature, painting, sculpture, rare books, and manuscripts included many treasures which Mellon wished to share with the world. His collections have proved a valuable asset to our nation's universities, libraries and museums. Paul Mellon's philanthropy could be seen not only as a redistribution of concentrations and collections of wealth and art, but a concerted effort to show a "democratic" appreciation to those who would ordinarily not have been able to experience such privilege.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

The Mellons have carved out a tremendous influence in the philanthropic or nonprofit sector. Through their contributions to and formation of trusts, foundations, museums and libraries, the Mellons have stimulated the increasingly important work done through the nonprofit sector in the form of grants and private charitable dollars. In Andrew's day, a number of trusts were formed, such as Union and the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust established to provide educational grants and promote scholarship among many institutions of higher learning.

Paul formed the foundations of Old Dominion, later to merge with Avalon, to form the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The other foundation Paul established was Bollingen. These foundations focused on Paul's interests (aside from Avalon which was his sister's), enabling his contributions to go to schools, universities, and museums to cultivate research and development in and through better educational systems, facilities, and finer quality exhibitions and collections. He had specific ties and gave generously to Choate Preparatory, Yale University, the University of Virginia and The National Gallery, among others. Paul's philanthropy, much like that of John Paul Getty, served as a foundation for giving for many of the organizations in the subsector of arts and culture.

Key Related Ideas

  • British Literature
  • Confucianism: Religious teachings based on the thought of Chinese philosopher Confucius.
  • Fine art: A branch of mostly visual art which has come to be known for the quality of its making and design.
  • Foundations and trusts
  • Higher education: Education which proceeds grammar and high school commonly done through a college or university.
  • Impressionism: This period from 1867-86 designated an influence upon many European artists in their use of transient light and color. Paul Mellon enjoyed this period of art.
  • Industrialist expansion: The trend in the early twentieth century for individuals owning major portions of industry to build vast and powerful empires.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • C.G. Jung (1875-1961): Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and doctor with whom Paul and Mary fraternized. The philosophical thoughts of Jung became of interest to Paul during the course of his medical visit to Zurich and assumed a more formidable role in the emergence of the Bollingen Foundation, named after a village in which Jung stayed.
  • John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy (1917-1963) and (1929 -1994): During Kennedy's time in presidential office, the Mellons and Kennedys were very close. "Bunny" had been appointed to a position to work in the White House garden where she created a space of her own design. She and Jacqueline were publicly very good friends.

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Andrew Mellon (1855-1937): Paul Mellon's father. A.W. Mellon was a driven man with his heart set on Paul becoming much like him. Paul's inheritance of the Mellon fortune shaped his life, arguably, more than anything else could.
  • Thomas Mellon (1813-1908): Paul Mellon's grandfather. Judge Mellon founded the T. Mellon and Sons Bank which was the foundation upon which the Mellon fortune began. Thomas Mellon's emphasis on the importance of business tremendously influenced his son Andrew.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (the product of a merger between Old Dominion and Avalon, established by Mellon's sister): Old Dominion was a foundation that served Yale University, in particular, by establishing additional schools pertaining to the liberal arts. Today, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation makes grants in six program areas: higher education, museums and art conservation, performing arts, population, conservation and the environment, and public affairs (The Andrew W. Mellon).
  • Bollingen Foundation: Was established for the publication and dissemination of scholarly works in areas interesting to Paul Mellon, including fine arts and Jungian thought. The foundation contributed to a series of books, including I Ching, a well-received book on the teachings of Confucius, and the "Andrew Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts." The foundation was named for a village in which C. G. Jung (a friend of the Mellons) stayed.
  • National Gallery of Art: Located in Washington, D.C., the National Gallery was formed and its building constructed with the financial and influential backing of Andrew Mellon and, later, his son Paul. The growth of the museum's collections is also due to the ongoing support of Paul Mellon and his wife, "Bunny." Their contributions total more than 1,000 pieces of art. Paul Mellon served on the board of trustees for forty years, including as its president.
  • Yale University (including the Yale Center for British Art): Yale benefited greatly from Paul Mellon's giving, receiving in total $75 million over his lifetime. This commitment reflected Paul's genuine compassion for his alma mater, for institutions of higher learning, and for the advancement of scholarly research done in the field.

Related Web Sites

  • National Gallery of Art Web site , at , provides links to planning your visit and extensive information covering: collections, exhibitions, online tours, programs and events, resources, a gallery shop and a unique link for kids. Also featured is a thorough look at the life of Paul Mellon and the contributions made to the museum the Mellons through gifts and bequests, at .
  • The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art Web site , at , provides information about the centre, its collections, forthcoming events, publications and more.
  • Private Passions, Public Legacy: Paul Mellon's Personal Library at the University of Virginia Web site provides an introduction, a brief life story of Paul Mellon, and seven unique areas in which his collections have been placed. Visit the site at

Bibliography and Internet Sources

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n.a. National Gallery of Art. New York: Thames and Hudoson, 1992.

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This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.