Dr. Franklin D. Murphy, former chairman and chief executive of Times Mirror Co., received the highest honor of the National Gallery of Art Thursday night as hundreds of the museum’s strongest supporters gathered to celebrate its 50th birthday and to get a first look at new works donated by the party guests.
Murphy, 75, received the Andrew W. Mellon medal for serving 27 years as one of the National Gallery’s five trustees and as chairman of its board since 1985.
“I have served this gallery for half its life, which emphasizes its relative youth,” Murphy said after receiving the bronze award from the late Mellon’s son, Paul.
Murphy had remarked earlier in the day that when Paul Mellon invited him to be a trustee in 1964, it was a first for the West: “Never before had a person west of Pittsburgh served on the board of a major cultural institution in the East,” said Murphy. “It was a real breakthrough for California.”
After the dinner, Murphy noted that by resisting putting their name on the gallery, the Mellon family had insured its success as a “national institution.”
It was Andrew Mellon’s inspiration in the early 1930s to create a national museum in Washington. After financing both the land and building, the Pittsburgh magnate launched a search for art for the facility. In 1938, Paul Mellon, then 31, became a trustee of the museum and worked to develop what he envisioned as a singularly American institution operated with taxpayer money and displaying works from all over the world donated by private citizens.
J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery, said it was supporters such as Murphy who sustained the Mellon family’s dream.
“Dr. Murphy likes to quote the aphorism, ‘Give, get or get out,’ ” said Brown, “but the truth is he has not only given of himself--like the Matisse drawing he gave for this birthday exhibit--but he has been wonderful about getting us in touch with donors of a particular vantage, not just from California but also at Hallmark (Cards Inc.) in his native Kansas City.”
Formerly chancellor at UCLA, Murphy is on the boards of the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles County Musuem of Art.
As a result of a no-holds-barred gift campaign celebrated Thursday night--donors were asked to give works worth at least $50,000--the National Gallery has a new Van Gogh, a new Winslow Homer, new Picassos, Munchs and Kirchners, and about 330 other new birthday presents.