“I don’t know what I’ve done that has made people so interested in me,
more than anyone else.”
“She worked quietly behind the scenes for many years to support horticulture and the arts,” said Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery, in a statement. “She leaves behind a meaningful legacy.”
He noted that Mrs. Mellon died on the 73rd anniversary of the West Building’s dedication, which Paul Mellon attended alongside President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Despite her social connections and contributions to the cultural life of Washington, Mrs. Mellon was publicity averse and took great care to remain low key. “Nothing should be noticed,” she told the New York Times in 1969.
Architectural Digest, March 17, 2014:
For someone who preferred to shun the limelight, Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, who died on March 17th at age 103, was a significant, if somewhat mysterious presence in the world of style, rarely quoted yet widely admired.
Sublime perfection was her goal, whether it was having the mature oak trees at her 4,000-acre Virginia farm pruned into giant green clouds or ordering maids’ uniforms from the couturier Hubert de Givenchy, thereby ensuring that her staff wore clothes as finely crafted as her own wardrobe. The gardens that Mellon, a self-taught but award-winning landscape designer and horticulture scholar created possess a restful, immaculate elegance, and two of them are American icons: the White House’s Rose Garden and the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, where she tucked herbs for the Kennedys’ chef amid the flowerbeds.
Following in the footsteps of her father-in-law, who founded Washington’s National Gallery of Art, she and her late husband, the financier and philanthropist Paul Mellon, assembled a spectacular collection, ranging from medieval drawings to Georgian equestrian scenes to Diego Giacometti bronzes. It was a passion that occasionally proved startlingly extravagant: The couple once purchased 70 wax sculptures by Edgar Degas in one fell swoop, and another time, Mrs. Mellon stopped by Mark Rothko’s studio and left with 13 of his works.
The Mellons’ homes, on the other hand, are barely known beyond a circle of friends, the couple having eluded the frequent entreaties of design publications. A wide array of decorators (such as Billy Baldwin, Syrie Maugham, Bruce Budd, Paul Leonard, and John Fowler) and architects (H. Page Cross, Tommy Beach, Edward Larrabee Barnes, and Hugh Newell Jacobsen) worked closely with Bunny Mellon over the years, but the end result was absolutely singular, a highly personal brand of understated elegance that trickled down into the homes of admiring friends—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis among them—and, thence, quietly, into the public arena.
The Telegraph, September 14, 2014:
A treasure trove of art, jewellery and other valuables from the estate of the reclusive heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon will go on sale at auction following her death earlier this year at the age of 103.
Experts invited to assess her collection at her country home of Oak Spring Farms, in Upperville, Virginia, were stunned at the scale of the riches she had amassed, including little-seen Picassos and Van Goghs, personalised Chanel handbags and even a vintage 1950s fire engine.
The sale of more than 4,000 items is due to take place in mid-November and will last nine days. It is expected to bring her heirs at least $100 million (£61 million), making it one of the most lucrative auctions ever to take place.
Few people had ever been invited to Oak Spring Farms to see the scale of the collection before Mrs Mellon’s death in March at the age of 103.
Widow of the philanthropist Paul Mellon, “Bunny” was wealthy in her own right as the granddaughter of the chemist Jordan Lambert, who invented Listerine mouthwash.
A close friend of Jacqueline Kennedy and talented horticulturalist, she designed the Rose Garden at the White House but rarely gave interviews and shunned the public eye.
She came to the world’s attention in 2012 however when she was caught up in a political scandal involving John Edwards, a Democratic presidential candidate she said reminded her of John Kennedy. He was accused of improperly using political donations from her to keep secret his mistress and their child as he sought his party’s nomination.
Sotheby’s plans to give over all nine floors of its New York auction house to displaying her collection, which includes paintings, drawings, jewellery, handbags, dinner services and gardening tools. Her baskets alone were displayed in their own house on the Oak Springs estate.
Prices are expected to range from $200 (£123) for a rug to $30 million (£18 million) for a Rothko painting.
Itemising and packing up all the items assembled in Mrs Mellon’s five homes was described as a Herculean task, taking up 3,000 feet of bubble wrap and more than 500 packing boxes for the decorative objects and books alone.
John Wilmerding, an American art scholar and trustee of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, told the New York Times: “Bunny was part of a generation that no longer exists today: an amateur collector with a sure eye, great taste and upper-class refinement, who bought across the board, from expensive jewellery and paintings to trinkets.”
“Granbunny” had the gift, said her grandson Stacy Lloyd IV, of finding the best in the simplest things: the smell of grass, the sound of water against a wood boat, the feel of the wind on her face. “She has taught me how to find beauty in everything,” Lloyd told the congregation. Jackie (Kennedy Onassis) once teased her: “Bunny, you think all your ducks are swans.”