Monday, 15 September 2014

Oak Spring Farms: Bunny Mellon's country estate

On Friday I came across an interesting article in The New York Times about the upcoming Sotheby's auction of many of Bunny Mellon's possessions. Apart from personal items, there will be plenty of artworks, or about 400 paintings and drawings, including works by Picasso and Hopper. A Rothko painting is expected to sell for $30 million and they say the auction could bring in over $100 million. Included in the article were images of her 4,000-acre farm, Oak Spring Farms, in Upperville, Virginia, a wonderfully laid-back home considering the wealth of its residents. For those who don't know her story Mellon was an iconic American figure, born Rachel Lowe Lambert in 1910 into a wealthy pharmaceutical family (her grandfather invented Listerine). In 1948 she married her second husband, Paul Mellon, a billionaire who passed away in 1999. Bunny was a philanthropist, an avid art collector who had a stunning collection in her five homes (e.g. Degas, Mark Rothko, Pissarro, Georgia O'Keeffe), a self-taught horticulturist and a gardener. She was a close friend to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and replanted the White House Rose Garden for the Kennedys in 1962, and later the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden. She was 103 years old when she passed away in March this year.
A photograph of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Marshall Hawkins sits on Mellon's desk.
There is also a bust by Renoir that you can see in the top photo

In Oak Spring she kept a beautiful garden, which she designed herself, of course, and fascinating art pieces. There was even a still life by Vincent van Gogh hanging above her bathtub. In the NYT article they point out:
But perhaps most notably, she was a passionate collector of a bygone era. She didn’t pay attention to what was in fashion; she didn’t think about future financial returns. Instead, she had understated and original taste, buying what she loved, free from the dictates of decorators and investment consultants.
An unframed Pissarro hangs above the living room fireplace, and one by Winslow Homer to the top left.
The horse on the mantle is by Swiss sculptor and designer Diego Giacometti, who was a personal friend

I remember reading an interview with Mellon in Vanity Fair back in 2010, which she gave shortly before turning 100 years old and her mind was still sharp (the detail photo from the garden house further below is from the interview). I remember reading articles that stated she frequently wore Jean Schlumberger jewellery and that couturier Balenciaga designed all her clothes until his retirement in 1968. Then she turned to Hubert de Givenchy, who also designed the uniforms worn by her maids. The designer clothes and jewellery indicated her style and class but Mellon was so much more; an extraordinary lady, a supporter of the arts, who also distributed her wealth to those in need.
A work by Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte in the stairway
Two works by the 20th-century French artist Madeline Hewes hang on the wall in the entrance
On a dining room wall hangs a portrait by Welsh artist Gwen John

Mellon herself designed the inner garden at Oak Spring and the courtyard. The garden house is quite unique and has a trompe l'œil decoration by French artist Fernand Renard.

A detail of Renard's trompe l'œil

Oak Spring has many buildings and one of them is devoted to Mellon's collection of baskets. Below you see the horse stables, where the Mellons bred and raced horses.

The NYT article quotes John Wilmerding, an American art scholar and trustee of the National Gallery of Art in Washington:
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 jewelry and paintings to trinkets.
If you have enjoyed these images from Oak Spring and are interested in knowing more about the Mellons there is a book from 1992 by Paul Mellon called Reflections in a Silver Spoon: A Memoir. Below I have included three images from Architectural Digest that I had in my files.

Architect Edward Larrabee Barnes designed the library building at Oak Spring Farms in 1980 where the Mellons kept the 13,000 books they had about landscape design! A large yellow painting by Mark Rothko hangs on one of its walls. In the aforementioned Vanity Fair interview, she recollected an "afternoon in the 50s when she wandered by chance into the artist’s New York studio, which was close to her house on East 70th Street" and bought 13 of his paintings.

I'm closing this post with the entrance of the main house at Oak Spring that has a painting of garden equipment by Roger de La Fresnaye from 1912–13.

I have until November to come up with $30 million to get myself an original Rothko … see you at the auction!

photo credit:
1-8, 10-11: Darren Higgins for The New York Times | 9: Jonathan Becker for Vanity Fair, August 2010 | 12-14: Michael Dunne for Architectural Digest , June 2014


  1. I have read bits of articles about her, so thank you for filling in the gaps. She certainly sounds like an incredible woman and the artwork shown here is amazing. I especially like René Magritte painting and the Roger de La Fresnaye one in the last photo and that collection of baskets is simply lovely. It's nice to know she was dressed by Balenciaga and Givenchy. Balenciaga started to send his clients, as well as his staff, to his friend's fashion house when he retired.

  2. Good luck coming up with the 30 million!Loved this post and the yellow room post too!I have yellow rooms my kitchen and bedroom.......think they are my favorite rooms in the home!Bunny and I would have gotten on great together!I always find it so fascinating where the MONEY came from!!!MOUTHWASH go figure!She has lovely things........I hope you go and bid on something!!!


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