Preview: Bunny Mellon’s Sotheby’s Auction

Over 2,000 items, mostly from her storied estate, Oak Spring Farm, in Upperville, Virginia.

Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby’s
Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

The design world is in a tizzy right now: Rachel “Bunny” Mellon’s collection will be up for grabs at Sotheby’s beginning November 10 with her “Masterworks,” and continuing November 20 to 23, with over 2,000 items of furniture, silver, linens, and decorations, mostly from her storied estate, Oak Spring Farm, in Upperville, Virginia. Leafing through the four-volume catalogue is a treat, and the next best thing if you can’t afford to bid on her treasures.

Rachel “Bunny” Mellon was one of the most private American philanthropists. Her husband, Paul Mellon, finished the work his father, Andrew W. Mellon, started, completing the National Gallery of Art, and donated his own Impressionist paintings to the museum. His wife, known as Bunny, a self-taught horticulture scholar, was best friend and mentor to Jacqueline Kennedy, and designed the Rose Garden for the Kennedy White House. This vignette represents so much of what Mrs. Mellon loved: paintings, 18th-century French furniture, and gardening. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Mrs. Mellon’s collection is very personal and ranges from masterpieces to intimate paintings such as this French 20th-century-era Trompe L’oeil Still Lifes With Flowers and Playing Cards: A Set of Four.
A view of Mrs. Mellon’s whitewashed stone library at Oak Spring Farm overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. Designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes in 1980, it was there that she kept her collection of over 3,500 gardening books, and rare historical manuscripts. She was self-taught in all areas of garden design and horticulture. Photo: Wendy Goodman
One of the highlights of her collection is Mark Rothko’s Untitled, 1970. The auction also includes works by Richard Diebenkorn, Joseph Cornell, Paul Klee, Balthus, and Diego Giacometti.
Painted floors, wicker baskets, and serene table settings were de rigueur; shown here in the country kitchen of Mrs. Mellon’s main residence at Oak Spring Farm in Virginia. Photo: Wendy Goodman
The sale also includes a surprising amount of incredible jewelry, such as this rare, fancy vivid-blue diamond pendant.
Here, the living room of Mrs. Mellon’s favorite residence (and where she spent most of her time) at Oak Spring Farm. Her trademark: painted floors and relaxed slipcovered furniture, reflecting comfort and unpretentiousness. Photo: Wendy Goodman
The Mellons had houses in New York, Washington, Nantucket, Antigua, Paris, and Cape Cod, but Oak Spring Farm is where Mrs. Mellon’s passions were cultivated, particularly her love of horticulture and gardening. Entertaining was also a large part of life at the farm. The sale includes exquisite embroidered table linens. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Mr. Mellon established the Yale Center for British Art in 1966, and funded a building designed by Louis Kahn, which opened in 1977. The Mellons donated hundreds of millions of dollars to cultural, educational, and charitable institutions. This sale’s proceeds will go to the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation, and includes this Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder oil-on-copper still life.
Lucky is the winning bidder who goes home with Diego Giacometti’s Table au dragon à l’oiseau.
The Mellons owned prized racehorses that lived every bit as elegantly as their owners. All their names are mounted on the stable beams. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Single-object decorating is always effective, especially in Mrs. Mellon’s houses. A French steel-campaign tester bed, shown here with baskets hanging from the ceiling, was in Oak Spring Farm, and is for sale. Photo: Wendy Goodman
This 1925 platinum, diamond, and onyx wristwatch by Charlton & Co. is another bijou from Mrs. Mellon’s jewelry box that will be auctioned November 20 and 21.
If you were lucky enough to have been invited to stay the night at Oak Spring Farm you might have enjoyed a fire in the guesthouse living room, pictured here. According to the catalogue, in 1969 Mrs. Mellon described her gardens thus: “Nothing should stand out. It all should give the feeling of calm. When you go away, you should remember only the peace.” Bunny Mellon had the gift of doing just that with all she touched. Photo: Wendy Goodman
Preview: Bunny Mellon’s Sotheby’s Auction