The Wall Street Journal tries to reclaim the name and place in history of John Russell Pope and his National Gallery in Washington, DC which houses Andrew Mellon’s art collection, the foundation of the National Gallery:
Yet, by the time the National Gallery was dedicated by President Roosevelt in 1941, Mellon’s reputation was badly damaged and Pope and the grand tradition of classically inspired architecture were under fire. Modernists denounced the building as a “pink marble whorehouse” and “a costly mummy.” Foremost of these detractors was the now-forgotten dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design who claimed that “surely the time cannot be far distant when we shall understand how inadequate is the death-mask of an ancient culture to express the soul of America,” obviously something he thought was best accomplished by the European-born International Style and structures like the 1939 Stone-Goodwin Museum of Modern Art.
And it was this modernist style that did triumph in the future federal buildings on or around the Mall: the forbidding stone boxes of the museums of American History and Air and Space, the risible concrete doughnut on stilts of the Hirshhorn, the sterile, mind-numbing behemoths of Health and Human Services, Education, and Labor. And last, but not least, a structure funded by Mellon’s son Paul: I.M. Pei’s 1970s East Building of the National Gallery. Although clad in the same marble, its assertive stark angles and sharp knife edges clash with Pope’s serene, well-mannered building across the street.
A Capital Idea (Wall Street Journal)