In 1983, philanthropist, art collector, and sportsman Paul Mellon and wife Rachel “Bunny” Mellon donated their important collection of approximately 200 sporting paintings, works on paper, and bronzes to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond, Virginia. When the VMFA’s new West Wing galleries were dedicated in 1985, Mr. Mellon noted, “I hope viewers will feel in tune with the life portrayed in the landscapes and sporting scenes and with the people in the portraits. I hope they will feel they are in the scenes momentarily and they will carry away with them a sense of freshness and vitality.” Mr. Mellon is remembered for his passion for sporting art and his commitment to building public collections such as VMFA’s to foster awareness and appreciation for the genre.

The traveling exhibition of 84 British masterworks organized by VMFA is aptly titled, A Sporting Vision: From the Paul Mellon Collection of British Art from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA). Opening on April 13 at the National Sporting Library & Museum, it will be the first venue for this major exhibition which will be housed in three-quarters of the NSLM’s galleries. As such, it will be the largest exhibit on view in the museum building since the inaugural exhibition, Afield in America: 400 Years of Animal & Sporting Art, in 2011.

A Sporting Vision, curated by Dr. Mitchell Merling, VMFA’s Paul Mellon Curator and Head of the Department of European Art, reconceives VMFA’s Paul Mellon Collection of British art which has been interpreted chronologically in the VMFA galleries since 1985. The works are instead organized thematically beginning with six paintings by George Stubbs who is acknowledged as “the greatest practitioner of British sporting art” in the exhibition text. The following four sections are: “In Pursuit,” featuring hunting, shooting, and angling subjects; “In Motion,” presenting flat racing, steeplechasing and coaching with the horse as a central figure; “Animal, Man, Country,” introducing landscapes and paintings of domesticated and wild animals; and “The World Upside Down,” highlighting humorous and anthropomorphic works. All oils, the paintings range from the eighteenth to the twentieth- centuries and include iconic works by recognized artists such as Henry Thomas Alken, Charles Henderson Cooper, John Ferneley, Sr., Sir Francis Grant, John Frederick Herring, Benjamin Marshall, George Morland, Sir Alfred Munnings, Philip Reinagle, James Ross, Dean Wolstenholme, and John Wootton.   

In the last lines of the exhibit text, the viewer is left with these words by Mr. Mellon about sporting art: “Let’s take it seriously, let’s reevaluate it, let’s look at it, let’s enjoy it.” It is fitting that this traveling exhibition of the esteemed collection that once resided in Upperville should start its journey where Mr. Mellon’s sporting vision had its roots in a community of like-minded sporting art enthusiasts invested in elevating the subject, and at the NSLM where this vision is realized.

An accompanying hard-cover exhibition catalog written by Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Curatorial Research Specialist and Curatorial Assistant for the Mellon Collections Dr. Colleen Yarger will be available for purchase for $25 at the NSLM’s Museum front desk.

Related NSLM Programming Join Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Curatorial Research Specialist and Curatorial Assistant for the Mellon Collections Dr. Colleen Yarger on Saturday, April 14, 2018, from 10:00-11:30 a.m. for Coffee with the Curator. NSLM Members Free | Non-members $5. RSVP with Anne Marie Barnes at ABarnes@NationalSporting.org or 540-687-6542 ext. 25.