Mom didn’t call it the National Gallery of Art. Everyone in Washington, D.C. called it The Mellon. That’s where I fell in love with art. It was the painting by Vermeer called The Girl with the Red Hat. It is a tiny painting and people have critiqued it to death. Enough. It’s beautiful. It doesn’t reproduce well, so if you get a chance to go to D.C., take time to see it.
Andrew Mellon bought it for his private collection and then gave his collection to the country. This staggered me as a child as I went from one room to the next with its dazzling range of art periods, wondering how it was possible to gather all these pieces in one place. The Mellon was a beautiful museum, to be sure, but I tried to imagine a home filled with all these pieces and I just couldn’t get my head around it. I kept pestering my mother and father about how he had managed to buy all this art. “Money.”,they replied.
“How much?”, I’d ask again and again. “Lots and lots and lots of it.” they’d reply, laughing.
“Wow”, I’d exhale.
I loved the Mellon. They couldn’t keep me put of there. They didn’t even charge me admission. I was short and had a round baby face and looked about 4. I suppose they felt asking me for admission wasn’t fair since I was so little, I only qualified as half a child. Mom or Dad would toss me out of the car door with a bag lunch and come back a few hours later. I remember the guards smiling broadly as I walked around. They must have thought my parents mad for letting a tyke walk around alone, but I’d think huffily, I was 7. I was in the 2nd grade. In my child’s mind, I’d been painting for years. Yeah.