“Nothing should be noticed.”

by Sally Steele

Marella Agnelli, Truman Capote, and Bunny Mellon, with unidentified man, lunching at Lafayette the day after Capote's Black and White ball

Marella Agnelli, Truman Capote, and Bunny Mellon, with unidentified man, lunching at Lafayette the day after Capote’s Black and White ball

“I don’t know what I’ve done that has made people so interested in me,

more than anyone else.”

Bunny Mellon's design for the White House Rose Garden

Bunny Mellon’s 1963 design for the White House Rose Garden

Imagine being Bunny Mellon. From Listerine heiress, to Paul Mellon’s wife, to designer of the White House Rose Garden, to age 103 and upon her death 1000+ items from her collection donated to the National Gallery of Art. A life hardly tinged by dogged scandals. What more can we say? Bunny Mellon, Boulevardier. To have lived her privileged life with such quiet aplomb seems the ultimate success.
Bunny Mellon (right)

Bunny Mellon (right)

Newsweek, July 25, 2011:
She was born into a well-to-do Princeton family. One of her grandfathers, chemist Jordan Lambert, invented Listerine, but it was her father, Gerard Lambert, an advertising innovator, who turned it into a hit product by marketing the antiseptic as a cure for halitosis. Bunny made her debut in October 1929 and three years later married the socially connected Stacy Lloyd Jr. Settling in Virginia, they had a circle that included Paul Mellon, the wealthy son of Herbert Hoover’s Treasury secretary. During World War II, Lloyd and Mellon roomed together in London, where both worked for the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA.
Once the war ended, as Paul Mellon wrote in his autobiography, Reflections in a Silver Spoon, both men found it difficult to resume married life. In October 1946, as the Mellons were riding home together after fox hunting, Paul’s wife, Mary, suffered a severe asthma attack, dying hours later. Bunny Lloyd made a condolence call; Mellon wrote that she was “very kind and understanding over my distress.” Indeed. She quickly divorced her husband, and in May 1948 she and Mellon wed.
Bunny & Paul Mellon, center

Bunny and Paul Mellon, center

Paul and Bunny Mellon

Bunny and Paul Mellon

The Washington Post, March 17, 2014: Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, the Listerine fortune heiress who married arts patron and philanthropist Paul Mellon, was a confidante of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and redesigned the White House Rose Garden, died March 17 at her home in Upperville, Va. She was 103. Tony Willis, her librarian and assistant, confirmed her death. The cause was not immediately available. The Mellons donated more than 1,000 objects to the National Gallery of Art, including paintings by Cezanne, Degas and van Gogh. With Mellon’s sister and a family foundation, they also funded the construction of the gallery’s East Building, designed by architect I.M. Pei, in the 1970s.

 

At the Milliner's by Edgar Degas, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, collection of Mr, and Mrs. Paul Mellon

At the Milliner’s by Edgar Degas, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Rothko, from the Mellon collection

Untitled, by Mark Rothko, collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

Vanity Fair cover

Vanity Fair cover

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.

Bunny-Mellon discussing sculpture with Adam Peiperl

Bunny Mellon discussing sculpture with Adam Peiperl

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.

Bunny Mellon brooch

Bunny Mellon brooch

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.

Balenciaga 1958, for Bunny Mellon

Balenciaga 1958, for Bunny Mellon

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.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Bunny Mellon

Jacqueline Kennedy and Bunny Mellon

 

 

 

 

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.

 

John Kennedy's funeral

John Kennedy’s funeral

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Paul Mellon's study

Paul Mellon’s study

 

 

Prices are expected to range from $200 (£123) for a rug to $30 million (£18 million) for a Rothko painting.

 

 

Bunny Mellon's basket collection

Bunny Mellon’s basket collection

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.”

Rachel "Bunny" Mellon

Rachel “Bunny” Mellon

“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.”

 

AUCTION UPDATE: From The New York Times — “Artwork spanning 400 years attracted bidders from 32 countries and four continents. The evening brought $158.7 million, topping a high estimate of $121 million. All 43 works sold. Among the stars: a 1970 abstract canvas by Mark Rothko of intense blues and greens that brought nearly $40 million, twice its high estimate, and several paintings and drawings by Richard Diebenkorn, including “Ocean Park No. 89,” which sold for $9.6 million, below its high estimate of $12 million.”

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