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Bunny’s Treasures

An inside look at the anticipated auction of the late Bunny Mellon’s home, complete with her most beloved items

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American heiress and philanthropist Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon may have been resolutely private, but the items from her Oak Springs Farm tell her story loud and clear.

This month, nearly 2,000 personal items from Mellon’s Virginia estate will be sold at Sotheby’s New York auction house, and the eclectic pieces range from an estimated $30 million painting by Mark Rothko to a much less expensive collection of Mellon’s gardening tools.

Elaine Whitmire, Sotheby’s Vice Chairman and Head of Decorative Arts, has overseen some of the most successful single-owner collections in her 30-plus years working at the auction house, and says she believes Mellon’s possessions are particularly representative of the socialite’s personality and passions. Whitmire’s low estimate for the sum of the collection is $100 million, noting that the Mellon name has created buzz among big-name bidders from around the globe.

It’s no surprise that Mellon’s name resonates with art collectors; she comes from a line of American aristocracy.  Granddaughter to the founder of Listerine and Pfizer pharmaceutical and daughter to the president of Gillette, Mellon went on to marry a wealthy Pennsylvania horse breeder and businessman.  It wasn’t long after Bunny’s first marriage ended that she wed Paul Mellon, the son of successful financier Andrew Mellon, who acted as the treasury secretary to three presidents. 

Despite her impressive family line, Mellon was known for her modesty and privacy, spending most of her time decorating her home with unique items from around the world and perfecting her many gardens. A dear friend to the Kennedys and a self-taught horticulturist, Mellon was commissioned to redesign the White House Rose Garden in 1961 and was also the choice gardener for the Carnegies.  With her recent death in March 2014, Mellon is being remembered for her dedication to the people and things that fulfilled her most. Living until the age of 103, Mellon’s life is certainly one to be emulated, perhaps starting with her art collection.    

The sale will be split into three parts: the November 10th Masterworks Collection, the November 20th and 21st Jewels and Objects of Vertu Collection, and the November 21st through 23rd Interiors Collection. All the proceeds will benefit the Lambert Foundation, which supports the Oak Springs Library, dedicated to the study of Mellon’s chief love, horticulture.

Here, Whitmire gives DuJour a personal tour of Mellon’s Oak Springs estate, complete with the items she cherished most.