For Rachel ‘Bunny’ Lambert Mellon, matters of style and taste were personal and private. The phrase “nothing should be noticed,” was widely known to be her style maxim, and it’s one she applied to every aspect of her life, from her wardrobe to her gardens, her country estate to her art collection.
Born in 1910, Bunny’s first husband was Stacy Barcroft Lloyd Jr, but it was when married to banking heir Paul Mellon that she set about creating her own beautifully crafted world. A self taught gardener and avid horticulturalist, the gardens at the Mellons’ 4,000 acre home Oak Springs in Virginia were a testament to her talents and a fabled idyll of vegetable gardens and topiary, of arbors and trompe l’oeil adorned greenhouses. She designed gardens for her friends Hubert de Givenchy and Jackie Kennedy, who commissioned her to redesign the Rose Garden at The White House. She was involved in the revival of Louis XIV’s kitchen garden at Versailles and would later dedicate herself to building up her Edward Larrabee Barnes designed Oak Springs Garden Memorial Library, a legacy that survives her and now houses over 13,000 of her beloved horticultural books.
It was, however, only after her death at 103 earlier this year that the full glory of her belongings became evident. Notoriously private, there were few visitors to the Mellons’ various homes around the world, and whilst they were known as avid art collectors – Bunny once told a Vanity Fair journalist of an afternoon in the 1950s when she wandered by chance into Rothko’s Manhattan studio and bought 13 of his pictures – the extent of their collection has only now come to light. On November 10th, Sotheby’s will host an auction of her possessions including pieces by Rothko, Braque, Giacometti and many others alongside jewelry, mementoes, porcelain and furniture.
Pictures accompanying the sale show vignettes from her various homes, collections of eclectic pictures, keepsakes and ornaments all stylishly cluttered around her houses. According to the New York Times, she used to have a Van Gogh hanging above her bathtub. A dining room full of mismatched cane chairs, a collection of 18th Century Botanical wares, cosy cushion scattered sofas placed beneath huge Rothko masterpieces and unframed artworks by Degas and Cézanne that rested propped up against walls all prove unexpected treasures. Bunny Mellon favored a style of decorating that was unashamedly luxurious but decidedly unpretentious and an approach to collecting that was based purely on what she loved. It was a way of living that made the most of the access and funds that afforded her the best of the very, very best, whilst still espousing a relaxed sophistication. And it all bears the hallmarks of truly timeless and extremely good taste.
Photos courtesy of Conde Nast Archive, NYTimes.com, TMagazine.com and ArchitecturalDigest.com.