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Public Papers - 1991

Remarks at the Andrew Mellon Dinner

1991-10-10

Your Majesty, Queen Sonja; Vice President and Mrs. Quayle; my old friend, President Spadolini; members of the diplomatic corps and trustees of this marvelous gallery; Mr. Justice; members of the Cabinet; and distinguished guests all. First, I seem to do this every time I appear here, but let me rethank Paul Mellon. Every couple of years Paul is gracious enough to invite me over to dinner at his house. And if home is where the heart is, then this is truly Paul Mellon's home.

And I'm delighted that Queen Sonja is with us tonight. It's a shame that King Juan Carlos of Spain could not stay for this dinner. But I discovered why, I just found out why. After a quick sneak preview of all the wonderful items from around the world in the 1492 exhibit, His Majesty had to get back to see if anything was left in Spain's museums. [Laughter]

And I also want to pay tribute to our Chief of Protocol, Joe Reed, who's with us. This is one of his last events. And after 2/2\ years of outstanding service, I don't know about the rest of you, but for Joe, these qualify as casual clothes. [Laughter] Having said all that, we're going to miss him.

And Barbara and I, for both of us, it's a great honor to be with you tonight to celebrate the legacy of Mr. Andrew Mellon and others, who have built and supported this magnificent National Gallery of Art. In a fitting way, two important anniversary celebrations merge into one. We mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the gallery and its stately West Building and, in just 2 days, we begin a year-long observance leading to the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage of discovery.

Every visit to this gallery is an act of discovery, for art reveals emotions, insights, and experiences that reflect the unity of human experience and aspiration. Art flows from mysterious creative forces. To produce great art is to give birth to a kind of truth. And that is why Dante called art, as it were, ``the grandchild of God.''

In the United States, we trace our roots to every nation on Earth. And nations from around the globe have helped the gallery assemble the unprecedented exhibition of masterpieces that opens this week: Circa 1492 Art in the Age of Exploration. And we thank everybody that cooperated on this, everyone from abroad, everyone here in this country who has worked so cooperatively to make this exhibition so spectacular.

We also gather to express our gratitude, I'd say our Nation's gratitude, to Mr. Andrew Mellon. An immigrant's son, he devoted energy, passion, and patience to improve himself and the country he loved. And he was a complete man. His life and his legacy prove that the most truly successful Americans dream the most generous of dreams. Mr. Andrew Mellon gave us a daughter and son in his own mold and image. Ailsa Mellon Bruce and Paul Mellon inherited their father's appreciation for fine art and his generous spirit. And as Andrew Mellon gave us this magnificent building of John Russell Pope's design, so Paul and his late sister gave the Nation I. M. Pei's path-breaking East Building. And it's a great pleasure to see Mr. Pei here with us tonight as well.

Like their father, Ailsa and Paul poured great talent and resources into assembling collections of art for the National Gallery. And, Paul, sir, as long as people live in this Capitol City, they will draw pleasure and inspiration from the Mellon family's gifts.

Every year some 7 million visitors, our dear friend Carter Brown tells me, open their eyes to the National Gallery's masterpieces. Some study and practice art through the gallery's educational programs, but the gallery beckons more than professionals and experts. It invites all the millions who tour its halls to become apprentices to the masters. For generations to come this gallery will open windows into the minds and souls of Leonardo and Picasso and Whistler and Renoir and Turner and Durer and hundreds more. The gallery's great works of art make yesterday's dreams alive and palpable, and they stir the creative energy of thousand's tomorrows.

Paul Mellon once quipped, ``What this country needs is a good five-cent reverie.'' And I think we all can agree that he has given us that and an awful lot more.

Thank you and may God bless you all and our great country. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:06 p.m. at the West Building, National Gallery of Art. In his remarks, the President referred to Queen Sonja of Norway; Vice President Dan Quayle and his wife, Marilyn; Giovanni Spadolini, President of the Italian Senate; several Justices of the Supreme Court; Paul Mellon, son of Andrew Mellon; King Juan Carlos I of Spain; Chief of Protocol Joseph V. Reed; Ailsa Mellon Bruce, daughter of Andrew Mellon; I.M. Pei, architect; and J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery of Art. These remarks were not received in time for publication in the appropriate issue. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

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