Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Andrew William Mellon (1855-1937), 1926 

Philip de László (1869-1937)

Portrait of Andrew William Mellon (1855-1937), 1926, Philip de László
Oil on canvas
20th Century
52 x 36 ins., (132cm x 91.5cm)
Presented to the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York by its members, 1926; Credit Suisse Americana Collection.
The artist’s sitters’ book II, f. 48: (A.W. Mellon March 4 1926 / 2); ‘Mellon Portrait Is Unveiled Here’, The New York Times, 7 May 1926, p. 9, ill.; Emery, S.M., ‘Secretary Mellon Inspires an Artist: De László Paints Chief Officer of the Treasury as a ‘Merchant Prince,’” The New York Times, 9 May 1926, Section IV, p. 5; The Graphic, Vol. 114, 3 July 1926, p.15, ill. [erroneously labelled “Frank Mellon”]; O’Conner, H., Mellon’s Millions: The Biography of a Fortune: The Life and Times of Andrew W. Mellon, (New York, 1933); ‘Philip De László, Noted Artist, Dies’, The New York Times, 22 November 1937; Rutter, O., Portrait of a Painter, (London, 1939), pp.258 & 360 Supplement to the Catalogue of Portraits in the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York, 1941, p. 6, fig. 237, p. 19. Hart-Davis, D. in collaboration with Caroline Corbeau-Parsons, De László: His Life and Art, Yale University Press, 2010, pp. 112, 196-197, ill. 110.
M. Knoedler & Co., New York, An Exhibition of Portraits by P.A. de László, January 1932, no.10.
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This supremely elegant ad vivum portrait of the highly influential American statesman Andrew Mellon was painted by the society portraitist Philip de László in 1926, and given to the Chamber of Commerce of New York by its members, in recognition of Mellon’s outstanding service as Secretary of the Treasury.

Andrew Mellon was born in Pittsburgh and later attended the Western University of Pennsylvania (now University of Pittsburgh), although left shortly before graduation to set up a construction company. Mellon was introduced to business, finance and politics at a young age by his father who by this point had dealings with a number of important industrialist figures including Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. Later in 1880 Mellon would accompany Frick on a tour of Europe, an event which would kick-start his passion for collecting important works of art.

After selling his construction company Mellon joined his father’s bank and not long after was made President. Throughout the 1880s Mellon greatly expanded the bank’s interests and invested in a number of successful ventures, before taking full control of all the Mellon family interests and properties in 1890. The size of the Mellon empire rapidly expanded in the following decade as Mellon bought, sold and invested in a number of businesses - most prominently fuel companies. In 1901 Mellon established the Gulf Oil Corporation and the same year oversaw the merger between Union Steel with J.P. Morgan’s United States Steel Corporation.

In 1902, following a change of name, Mellon became President of the Mellon National Bank and in the following years became a main financial supporter of the Republican party. Post-1910 Mellon’s business interests appear to have focussed on construction with a concentration on new processes, and soon held senior positions in over sixty different corporations.

Mellon greatly contributed to Charles Hughes presidential campaign in the run up to the 1916 election, and although Hughes was defeated, Mellon’s generosity was acknowledged within the Republican Party and when Warren Harding was made president in 1921 Mellon was offered the illustrious position of Secretary of the Treasury. Mellon took this new position with great seriousness and immediately resigned from his corporate affairs to focus on the task in hand. During the post-war era Mellon focussed on settling financial affairs with other nations, reducing debt and stimulating industry and business through the lowering of corporation tax and personal income taxes. Mellon’s tenure as Secretary of the Treasury ended in 1932 and for the remainder on his life he was embroiled in tax disputes with the Department of Justice, only to be acquitted after his death in 1937.

Although Mellon’s business achievements are undeniable, it is perhaps fair to say that his accomplishments in the sphere of philanthropy and the arts are his real lasting legacy. Mellon was one of the greatest art collectors of his generation and in 1936 decided to donate his outstanding collection of 369 paintings, 175 American portraits and 25 statues to the state whilst also funding the construction of a building in which to display them. The collection included works by many great Old Master painters including Botticelli, Holbein, Titian, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Romney and Turner and the result was the National Gallery of Art in Washington, now considered one of the most important art museums in America.

[1] R.L. Gale ‘Andrew William Mellon’, American National Biography Online, accessed January 2016.
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