Ailsa Mellon Bruce's artworks part of Carnegie collection
November 15, 2009 5:00 AM
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gallery Archives.
By Marylynne Pitz Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On the surface, Ailsa Mellon Bruce led a silken life filled with fabulous houses and New York apartments where she was surrounded by hundreds of valuable paintings now housed at the National Gallery of Art.
But the only daughter of A.W. Mellon experienced her share of sadness, too. Born in Pittsburgh in 1901, Ailsa Mellon grew up in the city's East End. At age 9, she endured her parents' divorce, which prompted her English mother, Nora McMullen, to hire bodyguards and a German governess.
After attending Winchester-Thurston school, Ailsa Mellon's next stop was that fashionable citadel of finishing -- Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Conn. In 1921, she moved to Washington D.C. with her father when he became secretary of the Treasury. While he served three presidents -- Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover -- she served as his polished hostess.
In 1926, the beautiful, reserved and stubborn young woman married David K. E. Bruce, a talented lawyer and the son of Maryland Sen. William C. Bruce. For wedding presents, A.W. Mellon gave his daughter a pearl necklace valued at $100,000 and a 200-acre estate in Syosset, Long Island.
The Bruces had a daughter named Audrey but their marriage did not last. Three days after the couple divorced in 1945, David K. E. Bruce married Evangeline Bell and continued a distinguished career as a diplomat. For President Harry Truman, he served as ambassador to France. He was President Dwight Eisenhower's ambassador to Germany and President John F. Kennedy's ambassador to Great Britain.
Audrey Bruce eloped in 1955 and, in front of a justice of the peace, married Stephen Currier, who was active in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s. The couple settled in New York City and established the Taconic Foundation, which was instrumental in writing civil rights legislation.
In 1967, Audrey Currier, 33, and her husband, 36, were reported missing when their small private plane disappeared between Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. No traces of the couple or the plane were ever found.
In their will, the Curriers directed that their three children, Lavinia, Andrea and Michael, be cared for by Yale Law School professor John Simon and his wife.
Two years later, Ailsa Mellon Bruce died of cancer at age 68. The decorative arts found in her New York apartments and an estate on Long Island were brought to the Carnegie Museum of Art and became the basis for the galleries that bear her name.