National Geographic : 1967 Mar
Andrew Mellon. Administrator Harry A. Mc Bride came from the Department of State. I, as Chief Curator, had never served on a mu seum staff, although I had spent three years as an assistant to Bernard Berenson, one of the great art authorities of this century, and had for four years directed the Fine Arts Depart ment of the American Academy in Rome. Perhaps our lack of professional prejudice was an actual advantage. We were unaffected by museum fashions; we were willing to take chances, to pioneer. But above all we were lucky in our timing, and the National Gallery grew faster than any similar institution in history. Unless European museums disperse their collections, which is unimaginable, no gallery founded today could amass works of equal importance. After all, only so many Raphaels, Titians, or Rembrandts exist-and virtually none remain in private hands here, 354 and very few in private hands abroad. But the National Gallery came into exist ence at the right moment. The United States boasted several great private collections of old masters, and we were fortunate enough to attract nearly all of them. When Mr. Mellon offered his own paint ings and sculpture to the Gallery, he hoped it would bring similar gifts. Responding to this stimulus, Samuel H. Kress presented an in comparable cross section of 13th-to-18th century Italian art-thus helping to fill vast empty spaces on the Gallery's walls at its of ficial opening on St. Patrick's Day, 1941. Nor did Mr. Kress stop at this munificent gesture. The Samuel H. Kress Foundation went on to spend, between 1945 and 1956, more than $25,000,000 on additional master pieces to broaden the scope of the original gift.* *In "The Kress Collection: A Gift to the Nation," NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, December, 1961, Guy Emerson told of still other Kress donations to U. S. art museums.