How Sarah Mellon Scaife and Family Helped Transform the Museum of Art
Members of the family of Judge Thomas Mellon (1813–1908) and Sarah Negley Mellon (1817–1909) have been involved with the Carnegie Institute and its Department of Fine Arts (the original name for the Carnegie Museum of Art) since the institution’s inception. Their son Andrew W. Mellon (1855–1937) joined the Carnegie Library Board of Trustees in 1894, before joining the Carnegie Institute Board and serving as chairman of its Finance Committee. In 1916 he also joined the Department of Fine Arts Committee. Though he left the latter body in 1921, when he moved to Washington D.C. to serve for nearly 11 years as Secretary of the Treasury for three successive administrations, he remained on the other two throughout his government service. He also resumed his membership on the Fine Arts Committee in 1933, after he had also served a little more than a year as Ambassador to the Court of St. James. He then served in all three capacities until his death in August 1937.
In the meanwhile, in 1925, Andrew Mellon’s brother Richard Beatty Mellon (1858–1933) had joined both the Carnegie Institute Board and the Fine Arts Committee and remained on both until his death in December 1933. Following Richard Beatty’s death, his son, Richard King Mellon (1899–1970), served similarly for many years, as did his son Richard P. Mellon, who joined the Carnegie Institute Board in 1970.
William Larimer Mellon (1868–1949), Andrew and Richard Beatty’s nephew, joined the Carnegie Institute Board and the Fine Arts Committee in 1937. His son-in-law, John F. Walton, Jr. (1893–1974) joined the Carnegie Institute Board in 1949.
To round up the Mellon family’s multi-generational governance service to the institution, Richard M. Scaife, Richard Beatty Mellon’s grandson, joined the Carnegie Institute Board of Trustees in 1960 and served on the Museum of Art Committee beginning in 1964; he was Chairman of the Museum of Art Board from 1972 until 1992, when he became Chairman Emeritus. And James M. Walton, who is John F. Walton Jr.’s son and William Larimer Mellon’s grandson, served as the President of Carnegie Institute from 1968 to 1984.
The Mellon Family’s Diverse Contributions to CMOA
The contributions of all these Mellon family branches go well beyond their service to the institution and general support of its finances. Gradually, over the years, their gifts also enriched its collections and helped to enhance visitor experiences. At the Department of Fine Arts, Andrew, Richard Beatty, and William Larimer, were founding members of the Patrons Fund, which was established in early 1922; it involved a ten-year financial commitment from a dozen individuals, for the purpose of assisting the institution with new acquisitions. The first purchase from the fund was Mary Cassatt’s Young Women Picking Fruit, still a favorite among museum visitors. Along with other prominent Pittsburgh collectors, these three Mellons also loaned works from their private collections to special exhibitions at Carnegie Institute. In 1930, Richard Beatty Mellon made a major gift of several hundred 16th and 17th century European carved wood pieces, a gift that enriched the collection in a new area. And in 1933, another of the Judge’s sons, James R. Mellon (1846–1934), William Larimer’s father, donated to the museum Théobald Chartran’s 1896 portraits of his parents on behalf of their children. None of the three Mellons, however, left directly any part of the art they had collected to a Pittsburgh institution. The most significant of the three collections, Andrew Mellon’s legendary group of old masters, was given to the nation as the nucleus for the establishment of the National Gallery of Art, along with a substantial fund to build the imposing structure that houses it.
It was the next generation of the Mellon family, beginning with the children of “the three,” that had the greatest impact, contributing enormously to the growth of the museum’s art collections, through individual gifts and through gifts from foundations they had established or oversaw. In addition to providing regular financial support for special exhibitions, the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust (established by Andrew Mellon in 1930) also provided funds, starting in the 1950s, for the acquisition of several important works. John F. Walton, Jr. and his wife Rachel Mellon Walton, and later their son James M. Walton and his wife Ellen, as well as Margaret M. Hitchcock and Matthew T. Mellon (Rachel Walton’s siblings), also gifted art works to the museum’s collection. At least one of these works, Sir Henry Raeburn’s portrait Mrs. Janet Bolt Lamb had been in William Larimer Mellon’s family collection for about half century before it was donated to the museum.
Andrew Mellon’s children, Ailsa Mellon Bruce (1901–1969) and Paul Mellon (1907–1999) established the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 1969. Paul had ambivalent feelings about his hometown from an apparently unhappy childhood in Pittsburgh. Though he was generous with monetary gifts to Pittsburgh-area institutions, including the Museum of Art, throughout his life and in his bequests, his enormous art collection was given, with just a couple of exceptions, elsewhere. The beneficiaries were principally U.S. institutions, though major gifts were also given to museums in France and the United Kingdom: the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, VA, and Yale, both the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art, which he founded and endowed. Ailsa similarly gave enormous funds for acquisitions at the National Gallery (including the purchase of the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in the Western Hemisphere) and bequeathed her entire distinguished collection of mostly Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works to the institution her father had founded. But most of her extensive, impressive decorative arts collection, more than 2,700 pieces, did end up in her hometown after her death in August 1969, through Paul Mellon’s support and the efforts of the Carnegie Institute’s President, James M. Walton, and the museum’s decorative arts curator, David T. Owsley. The Ailsa Mellon Bruce Galleries, made possible by generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, originally opened in June 1976. The galleries, which were renovated in 2009, showcase a selection from Mrs. Bruce’s collection, along with many other works from a large and expanding decorative arts and design collection.
Also, in 1980, when the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust liquidated in its 50th year, it provided two substantial endowed funds to Carnegie Museum of Art: one for much-needed, long-term support for the periodic staging of the Carnegie International and another for the establishment of the A. W. Mellon Acquisition Endowment Fund, which continues to finance new acquisitions at the museum.
In contrast to Andrew Mellon’s children, Ailsa and Paul, who left Pittsburgh early on and whose broad philanthropic causes were more national in scope, the children of Richard Beatty Mellon, Richard King and Sarah, remained based in Pittsburgh and focused their philanthropic work on the greater Pittsburgh region. Richard King Mellon was a major force in Pittsburgh’s Renaissance of the 1940s and 1950s, as were his sister Sarah and her husband Alan Scaife. Their individual and collective impact on Pittsburgh-area philanthropy has been extraordinary. But while, as noted above, their cousins Ailsa and, to an even greater extent Paul and his second wife Rachel (Bunny) Lambert Mellon, became extraordinary art collectors, Richard King Mellon and Sarah Scaife did not share that particular passion to the same degree. They were, nevertheless, strong supporters of arts and cultural causes in a variety of ways. And Mrs. Scaife is known to have enjoyed hunting for treasures, both miniature and full size, in antiques shops, especially during her London visits.
The Scaife impact on the Museum of Art beginning in the 1950s is the main focus of this essay and will be detailed below. But first, a very brief overview of the on-going importance to the institution of The Richard King Mellon Foundation is given. Established in 1947, the foundation has provided financial support for museum operations as well as funding for important projects, including several special exhibitions. In 1972, the foundation gifted seven paintings by the 19th century Pittsburgh-based artist David Gilmour Blythe, thus considerably enhancing the body of his works owned by the museum. In the 1970s, coincident with the expansion of the decorative arts department spurred by the arrival of the Ailsa Mellon Bruce collection, the foundation also provided funds for a series of significant acquisitions of 18th and early 19th century furniture. Perhaps most important, in March 1974, the foundation awarded its largest grant to date to the Carnegie Institute as a pacesetter for its fundraising campaign.
Sarah Mellon Scaife
Sarah Cordelia Mellon was born on December 2, 1903, the only daughter of Richard Beatty and Jennie King Mellon. She and her older brother, Richard King Mellon, grew up at their parents’ 60-room Fifth Avenue mansion (apparently at the time the largest house in Pittsburgh) in what became the city’s wonderful Mellon Park after the house was demolished in 1941. As children, they attended Pittsburgh private schools. Sarah Mellon went on to attend Miss Spence’s school in New York City. After returning to Pittsburgh, she became involved in community work, becoming President of the Junior League in 1926.
Sarah Mellon married Alan Magee Scaife (1900–1958), scion of an old, established Pittsburgh family, on November 17, 1927; the ceremony was followed by a brilliant and much-talked about reception on the grounds of her parents’ estate. The Scaifes had two children, Cordelia, born September 24, 1928, and Richard, born July 3, 1932. They maintained a residence in Pittsburgh and a country estate, Penguin Court, in Ligonier, PA.
Alan and Sarah Scaife loved to travel and to entertain friends in memorable parties. As was noted above, they were also noted philanthropists with a focus on Pittsburgh-area causes. Among other civic activities, Mr. Scaife served as chairman of the board of trustees of the University of Pittsburgh. Both that institution and The Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) were major beneficiaries of Scaife philanthropy. In fact, Mrs. Scaife and The Sarah Mellon Scaife Foundation, established in 1941, dispensed tens of millions of dollars to those and other institutions and charities during her lifetime and by bequest. Her causes were educational, civic, medical and healthcare-related; we focus here on her support of the arts, specifically her relatively late-in-life cause of enriching the city with world-class masterpieces for its premier art museum.
The Legacy of Sarah Mellon Scaife and Family at CMOA
Mrs. Scaife’s first art gift to the museum was in 1940, when she and her brother donated three paintings in memory of their mother: two old masters and a 19th century canvas by Jules Breton, all of which had been in their parents’ collection. Twelve years later, Mrs. Scaife’s personal interest in antiques and the decorative arts in general and the museum’s needs came to a happy confluence. In June 1952, her foundation awarded the Carnegie Institute a major grant to establish a Decorative Arts Section within the Department of Fine Arts by underwriting its operational expenses, including those for a curator, for a three-year period. During the next decade, the foundation made two additional three-year grants for operational expenses for the same purpose. And to ensure the viability and growth of the Decorative Arts Section, the foundation also awarded two other grants. Beginning in 1956, it pledged a three-year challenge grant for decorative arts acquisitions, contingent on the museum raising funds from other sources at a 50 percent level each year. From this acquisitions fund, the museum made several important purchases, mainly ceramics, including five pieces from the famed Meissen Swan Service. In addition, in 1960, the Sarah Mellon Scaife Foundation provided a special grant to develop a decorative arts exhibition area.
Alan Scaife died suddenly in Pittsburgh’s Magee Hospital on July 24, 1958. After her husband’s death, in the last few years of her own life, Mrs. Scaife’s association with the Museum of Art reached its zenith. In addition to the ongoing grants from her foundation for decorative arts, early in 1961, Mrs. Scaife made her first significant painting gift to the museum, George Romney’s full-length portrait of The Honorable Mrs. Trevor (Viscountess Hampden), another work from the Richard B. Mellon collection; however, she retained a life interest in the painting, so it actually came to the museum in 1966.
In November 1961, Mrs. Scaife decided to do something really special for the museum and her hometown. At the auction of the famous Erickson collection in New York City, her eye was on the prize of that collection, Rembrandt’s Aristotle with a Bust of Homer. But it was not to be. The Metropolitan Museum of Art outbid the Pittsburgh contingent. Mrs. Scaife, however, did not come back home empty-handed. Her generosity enabled the museum to acquire two other important paintings from the same auction: St. Augustine with Members of the Confraternity of Perugia by Perugino and Pieter Cornelisz. van der Morsch by Frans Hals.
But that was just the beginning. From 1962 until her death in Pittsburgh on December 28, 1965, Mrs. Scaife made possible the acquisition of eighteen additional works. Only one of these later gifts, The Miracle of St. Anthony, attributed to Francisco de Goya, fits her previous pattern of favoring antiques and old master paintings. The other seventeen, all canvases, are important works by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists. She worked closely with museum staff, especially Leon Arkus (then the museum’s associate director, who became director in 1968) to select only works of very high quality.
First came Claude Monet’s enormous painting Water Lilies (Nymphéas), acquired in July 1962. This nearly 20-foot-wide canvas, which had remained in the artist’s studio after his death and was sold by his son to Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. in 1950, was Mrs. Scaife’s first widely popular gift; it has remained so for more than 50 years. Later in 1962, from a selection of six possibilities, Mrs. Scaife chose not one, as had been expected, but three works: Edouard Vuillard’s Interior with Women (a work that had been in the collection of American expatriate artist Romaine Brooks), Pierre-August Renoir’s Young Girl in Pink (reported to be Mrs. Scaife’s favorite), and, finally, a most unconventional choice, Edgar Degas’ great, innovative, and challenging work The Bath. It is perhaps, no coincidence, that these choices were made. Mrs. Scaife knew that Vuillard and Renoir were among Ailsa Mellon Bruce’s favorite artists and that Paul Mellon was already one of the great collectors of works by Degas. And all three works represented the first paintings by these seminal artists to enter the museum’s collection. One more connection is interesting, though it is most likely that Mrs. Scaife was unaware of it. Among the Renoirs in Mrs. Bruce’s collection was Young Woman Braiding her Hair (given to her by her father, Andrew Mellon, and now at the National Gallery of Art). In the 1920s, that painting and Mrs. Scaife’s new gift to Pittsburgh, Young Girl in Pink, had hung next to each other at the Paris mansion of noted Renoir collectors Josse and Gaston Bernheim-Jeune.
Scaife gifts over these four years also included the first paintings by Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, Pierre Bonnard (three works in all), Edvard Munch, and Suzanne Valadon to enter the museum’s collection, as well as additional paintings by Camille Pissarro, Vuillard, and Renoir (two works, including the great landscape The Garden in the Rue Cortot, Montmartre, which was Mrs. Scaife’s last gift to the museum).
But the Scaife contributions continued after Sarah Scaife’s death. Among her bequests to various institutions and organizations, was a personal one to Carnegie Museum of Art: her extensive collection of miniatures, including not only specially made reproductions of rooms in Scaife residences, including the Georgian dining room from Penguin Court, but also a range of antique miniature treasures she had collected in her travels. And it is greatly significant that for nearly a decade after her death her family continued what she had begun in the fine arts area. As a result, the credit line “Acquired through the generosity of the Sarah Mellon Scaife Family” appears in two dozen works. They include single works by Eugène Boudin, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Henri Matisse, Camille Pissarro, Henri Rousseau, Paul Signac, Alfred Sisley, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, two works each by Pierre Bonnard, Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh, and three by Edgar Degas. Starting in 1970, the Sarah Scaife family also gifted to the museum several American paintings by Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Dewing, Childe Hassam, Fitz Henry Lane, and Martin Leisser, likely reflecting her son’s interest in the work of American artists.
The more than 40 works given by Sarah Scaife and her family in just over a decade have had, indeed, a transformative impact on the museum’s collection, especially in the area of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. In 1960, the holdings in that area consisted of single paintings each by Boudin, Cassatt, Monet, Pissarro, and Sisley. By 1973, thanks to the Scaife gifts, this area of the collection had grown to about 40 works. They include, in addition to highlights already mentioned, several more world-class masterpieces: van Gogh’s Wheat Fields after the Rain (The Plain of Auvers), Degas’ Henri Rouart in front of his Factory, Pissarro’s The Crossroads, Pontoise, Cézanne’s Landscape Near Aix, The Plain of the Arc River, Signac’s Place des Lices, St. Tropez, Bonnard’s Nude in Bathtub, and Matisse’s The Thousand and One Nights. Indeed, the quality of the museum’s Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection is widely recognized by art scholars and visitors alike.
The Sarah Mellon Scaife Foundation also continued to provide funds for significant acquisitions. In the mid-1970s, prior to the opening of the Bruce Galleries, the foundation funded a series of purchases of important European furniture.
Sarah Scaife’s son, Richard M. Scaife, whose long service to the Museum of Art has already been noted, also made several gifts of art to the museum, beyond those designated as coming from the Scaife family. In 1966, he donated a few items that had belonged to his mother, including her portrait painted in the 1940s by Gerald L. Brockhurst. Reflecting his own personal collecting preferences, Mr. Scaife subsequently gifted several other works, mostly by, but not limited to, American artists. His gifts include works by such diverse modern artists as René Magritte, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, and Sol Lewitt. His American gifts include works by Aaron Gorson, Richard Miller, George Hetzel, as well as Clarence H. Carter’s important painting War Bride. In 1985, Mr. Scaife donated Maurice Utrillo’s early painting Rue de l’Abreuvoir, which had been in his mother’s collection. She had lent this important canvas to the huge monographic exhibition of the artist held at the museum in 1963.
The works gifted to the museum by Mrs. Scaife’s family after her death were only part of their benefactions in her honor. Plans were soon under way to construct, with funds provided by the Scaife foundation and family, a suitable building in her memory, a space that would appropriately address the museum’s changing needs and could properly showcase its expanding collections. The planning stage lasted several years, as museum officials, including Richard Scaife and Leon Arkus, considered various architects for the project. Among them was the great Louis Kahn, who ultimately did not end up with the commission. Parenthetically, Kahn went on to design his last masterpiece, The Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon’s incomparable gift to his alma mater, which was completed in 1977 after the architect’s death.
For the Scaife project at the Carnegie Institute, New York–based Modernist architect Edward Larrabee Barnes was chosen. A contract with Barnes was signed in May 1970, after a false start, which had resulted in termination of a contract with the Los Angeles firm Charles Luckman Associates in July 1969. Following several years of construction, The Sarah Scaife Gallery of the Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute (its full, original appellation), a multimillion-dollar, granite-wing addition to the original Carnegie Institute building opened in October 1974, a gift, as pledged of the Sarah M. Scaife Foundation and family in her memory. The impressive new gallery, which more than doubled the exhibition space for art at the museum, was introduced with great fanfare and generated much excitement, deservedly so. With the new building, Carnegie Museum of Art had come of age.
The present-day look of the Scaife Galleries is the result of several renovations, the first, a major one, in 1994 and the latest in 2013. The works of art donated by Mrs. Scaife and her family are mainstays of the museum’s permanent collection galleries. Except for those half-dozen works that are too fragile for permanent exhibition, such as the great Matisse paper cut-out, most of the others are nearly always on view. Many are perennial favorites of museum visitors and are missed when not on view. When they are absent, it’s often because they are on loan to other institutions around the world for special exhibitions. Indeed, the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works are among the most requested loan works in the collection. As such, thanks to Mrs. Scaife and her family’s generosity to their hometown, they serve as ambassadors from Pittsburgh and Carnegie Museum of Art, giving pleasure to a worldwide audience.
- Series: Collectors