WASHINGTON - Paul Mellon, whose inherited fortune enabled him to provide Americans with Van Goghs and Cezannes, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina and beautification of a park across the street from the White House, died Monday at his home in Upperville, Va. He was 91.
Mr. Mellon's most enduring legacy may be the starkly modern, trapezoid-shaped East Building of the National Gallery of Art, an expansion of the Pennsylvania Avenue museum founded by his father, industrialist Andrew Mellon.
Paul Mellon, his sister Ailsa Mellon Bruce and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation together covered its $94 million cost. But Paul Mellon chose architect I.M. Pei to design it and supervised its construction.
Mr. Mellon's wide-ranging philanthropy included a $5 million endowment of the symphony orchestra of Pittsburgh, where he was born, a contribution that made possible the purchase of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and patronage of the Royal Veterinary College at the University of London.
In 1969, he gave $409,000 to spruce up Lafayette Park across the street from the White House. Sky Meadows State Park in Virginia was another gift.
"I have been an amateur in every phase of my life," Mellon wrote in "Reflections in a Silver Spoon," his memoirs, "an amateur poet, an amateur scholar, an amateur horseman, an amateur farmer, an amateur soldier, an amateur connoisseur of art, an amateur publisher and an amateur museum executive. The root of the word `amateur' is the Latin word for love . . ."
Mr. Mellon was also a lifelong horseman and fox hunter, and a successful horse breeder. His Sea Horse won the Kentucky Derby in 1993. At the Belmont Stakes, his Quadrangle won in 1964 and his Arts and Letters won in 1969.
"I've bred some very good horses," he said in a 1992 interview. "A hundred years from now, the only place my name will turn up anywhere will be the studbook."
Last year, Forbes magazine rated him the 124th-richest American, worth $1.4 billion.
His fortune was inherited from his father and built on holdings in banking, coal, railroads, steel and aluminum. Andrew Mellon, who served as secretary of the Treasury and ambassador to Britain, died in 1937.
Paul Mellon's 913 gifts to the National Gallery of Art included Paul Cezanne's "Boy in a Red Waistcoat" and Edgar Degas' original wax sculpture of the "Little 14-Year-Old Dancer." He also gave works by contemporary American artists, including Mark Rothko and Alexander Calder.
His interest in art began with British painting - he established the Center for British Art at Yale University, where he graduated in 1929.
Mr. Mellon, who earned a degree from Cambridge University in Britain, also paid for the publication of the I Ching, an ancient Chinese classic; the collected works of C.G. Jung, his friend and former analyst; and art historian Kenneth Clark's "The Nude" as well as complete editions of Plato, and the 30 volumes of the British poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
At age 40, Mr. Mellon enrolled as a freshman at St. John's College in Annapolis, Md., because he wanted to learn classical Greek.
He established the Bollingen prize for poetry and awarded the first to Ezra Pound while Pound was under indictment for treason after his broadcast on behalf of Mussolini's Italy in World War II.
Because of his interest in horsemanship, he joined the cavalry on enlisting as an Army private when the United States entered World War II. He rose to the rank of major in the Office of Strategic Services, predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency.
Mr. Mellon had homes in Washington; Paris; New York; Antigua, West Indies; Nantucket, Mass.; and Cape Cod, Mass.
Services will be held in Upperville and at the National Gallery, which also plans a memorial exhibition.
Mr. Mellon is survived by his wife of 50 years, Rachel Lambert Lloyd, known as "Bunny." His first wife, Mary Conover Brown, died in 1946. He is survived by two children from his first marriage - Catherine Conover and Timothy Mellon - and by three grandchildren.