Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
David Finley: Quiet Force for America's Arts Hardcover – March 9, 2006
About the Author
David Doheny served as vice-president and general counsel at the National Trust from 1985 to 1996. He was a corporate and real estate lawyer in Chicago and Miami, where he also served as Assistant State and U.S. Attorney.
From The Washington Post
Only four men have directed the National Gallery of Art, three of them most memorable, one curiously forgettable. The ace executive who now runs it is Earl A. "Rusty" Powell III, the nicest, least affected guy you'd ever want to meet. His predecessor, J. Carter Brown, was an aristocratic dazzler. John Walker, before him, had a laugh that bubbled like champagne. All three stand out as foreground men and as skillful scholars, unlike David E. Finley (1890-1977), the gallery's first director.. Imagined in the midst of their Technicolor company, he fades into the woodwork like the butler in the hall. His manner is amenable, his frame wispy, his posture deferential. This new biography is as colorless as he was, and as discreet.
But Finley changed Washington. He made the city classier. He was instrumental in the founding of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the White House Historical Association and the National Portrait Gallery. He helped save the Old Patent Office Building and the gracious houses on Lafayette Square. At the National Cathedral, he was on the building committee. He chaired the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. In almost every case, he let others get the credit. In ego-driven Washington, Finley seemed to have no ego at all.
"He abhorred self-promotion,"writes his biographer, David A. Doheny, a former general counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He was loyal, low-key and "self-effacing to a fault." "He was the most modest and inconspicuous of men, small, quiet, courteous, and thin as a piece of paper," remembered Kenneth Clark, the art historian, "but he had a will of iron and a matchless skill in overcoming bureaucratic and political obstruction." He was, in short, a superb public servant -- with the accent upon servant. Or maybe "courtier" is a better word, for Finley's chief advantage was his usefulness to the rich.
The son of a conservative South Carolina congressman (Rep. Finley had another son christened "States Rights"), Finley had known Washington since childhood, but so had many other toilers in the government. What he had, and they didn't, was a highly proper pedigree (he was related to the Blairs, of Blair House fame), all the proper graces and a hunger for hard work. By 1919, he was a member of the bar, serving on the staff of Col. Arthur Woods. (Woods later became president of both Rockefeller Center and Colonial Williamsburg, not least because his wife was a granddaughter of J.P. Morgan.) After that, Finley labored for the financier Eugene Meyer, later owner of The Washington Post.
By the early 1920s, "Little David, the rich man's pal" -- the description is the Saturday Evening Post's -- had forged a more important link. He had become the right-hand man to Andrew W. Mellon, the secretary of the treasury and one of the most powerful of America's super-rich.
We all could use a Finley. Shy and dour, Mellon could hardly do without him. Finley was his confidant, his aide, his major domo. Whatever Mellon needed doing, Finley did. His name does not appear in Mellon's Taxation: The People's Business (1924), but Finley wrote that book. If Mellon's children needed escorting to some far-off dinner-dance, Finley volunteered. When Ailsa, Mellon's daughter, married David K.E. Bruce, the son of a Maryland senator, it was Finley who devised the seating for the ceremony. When it came to picking pictures he would donate to the nation, Mellon turned to Finley once again.
It was the blind leading the blind. Finley didn't know a whole lot about pictures. Nor did Mellon, who bought a Goya on the telephone and kept referring in his diary to the "Vienna Vameer." Mellon depended much more than he might have on a single crafty dealer, London's Joseph Duveen. When, with characteristic audacity, Duveen borrowed the apartment under Mellon's and filled it up with objects that he hoped Mellon might buy, Finley helped to pick them -- editing out the martyrdoms, the crucifixions and, of course, the nudes that he knew would offend. (Not everyone fell for Duveen's vivid charms. Paul Mellon, for example, viewed his father's dealer as "an impossibly bumptious and opinionated ass.")
Andrew Mellon died in 1937, four years before his gallery opened on the Mall. For the next 19 years, Finley did his best to fulfill his mentor's dream. "It was almost as if he had inherited the collection from Father," wrote Paul Mellon. Almost, but not quite. Though his title was director, Finley was never the gallery's picture man. From 1938, tending to the art there was the job of John Walker. Nor was Finley the main money source. After Andrew Mellon's death, most of the funding came from his children, Paul and Ailsa.
As soon as he turned 65, Finley's stay was over. He had no wish to let go, but Paul Mellon pulled the strings now and wrote the largest checks as well, and so the deed was done.
Finley's day was over. The gallery today -- in its scholarship, its library and especially its graciousness -- bears the clear stamp of Paul Mellon. People of his quality do not scorn aged retainers. David Finley, after all, was a man who did his duty. So was Paul Mellon. Doheny's dry, thorough and deeply dutiful volume was 10 years in preparation. That the money for the enterprise was bequeathed by Paul Mellon is no surprise at all.
Reviewed by Paul Richard
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
Top customer reviews
If you have an interest in this country's major cultural institutions, especially those sited in Washington, D.C.,this is a very good book to own and read. David Finley, may have been quiet, but he was deeply involved in the creation of such institutions as the National Gallery of Art and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He helped save one of my favorite buildings in Washington,D.C.,--the U.S. Patent Building-- from the clutches of a mindless bureaucracy that wished to tear in down for a parking garage.
Mr. Finley also helped put together the Monument Men of World War II. He later was a leader in saving the architectural character of Lafayette Square. His cultured hand seems to have been everywhere.
Modern day visitors to our nation's capital should pause and reflect on what one quiet man accomplished decades ago to preserve its most important historical structures and ensure that great art was available to all.
I suggest readers interested in this general topic might enjoy another,more recent book: "Capital Culture" by Neil Harris.