- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - Rarely seen paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and Edgar Degas are among an impressive collection of 62 artworks that have been transferred to the National Gallery of Art after being held for decades in a private estate, the museum said Thursday.

The paintings, sculptures and other works are among 110 objects bequeathed to the museum from the estate of museum benefactor Paul Mellon after his death in 1999. They remained in the care of his widow, Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, at their Virginia home until her death in March.

A major highlight of the bequest is Van Gogh’s painting “Still Life of Oranges and Lemons with Blue Gloves,” which now joins the museum collection and will be put on display beginning June 7.

Acquiring any Van Gogh is cause for celebration, said curator Kimberly Jones, but this one is particularly important. It was created in a tumultuous moment in the artist’s life during a brief time between hospitalizations after Van Gogh’s mental breakdown in 1888, when he cut off part of his ear. As an artwork, it’s “a real knockout,” Jones said.

“It’s this very emotionally wrought period of time” after artist Paul Gauguin moved out of the house they had shared, and Van Gogh is mourning the break in their relationship, Jones said. “I think this still life, of all the still lives, is the most Gauguin-like in terms of the pallete, the symbolism. … I can’t help but wonder, looking at this, if Paul Gauguin’s presence isn’t being very much felt in this painting.”

The Mellon family already released 48 other artworks during Rachel Mellon’s lifetime, including Van Gogh’s painting “Green Wheat Fields, Auvers” in December. Most of the museum’s Van Gogh works will be displayed together in June.

The Mellon acquisitions were made mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, with many brought back from France. Most works kept in their Upperville, Virginia, estate haven’t been seen since a 1966 exhibition of the Mellon Collection.

Other highlights include one of Monet’s earliest known paintings, “Still Life with Bottle, Carafe, Bread and Wine” from 1862-1863 and a large, colorful painting by Degas titled “The Riders,” depicting a group of jockeys on horseback.

The collection includes 12 oil sketches by Georges Seurat, who died young and did not have a large body of work. Now, combined with four other paintings by Seurat and a drawing, the museum has one of the most significant U.S. collections of his work, Jones said.

There are nine American paintings in the Mellon group, including two by Winslow Homer.

Since 1964, Paul and Rachel Mellon donated nearly 1,200 works of art to the museum. Mellon’s father, the Pittsburgh industrialist Andrew Mellon, founded the National Gallery in 1937 and donated his famous art collection to the nation.


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