“When she and I talked to one another, I didn’t think about who she was…she was my friend. We appreciated the same things…had similar thoughts, interests and a joy for all things pretty. I loved my talks with her…they will be with me always. She gave me validation of my creativity. I will miss she and Nancy driving around together, and my chats with them in the Volvo. What an amazing pair.” Manuel Simpson, Middleburg
Although Rachel “Bunny” Mellon was rarely quoted and seldom seen at parties, she influenced and was widely admired by leaders in politics, the arts, the equine world and the world of international style.
“She was involved in the business of nature and beauty, design and implementation,” according to Alexander Forger, her personal attorney for the past 40 years.”
Referred to by many as a ‘searcher for sublime perfection,’ and “an American aristocrat,” she and her late husband, financier and philanthropist Paul Mellon, contributed generously to major institutions including Washington’s National Gallery of Art, but Mrs. Mellon may be best remembered for her personal sense of style and beauty.
She had an ability to create exceptionally beautiful personal spaces filled with charm and intimacy, and she made important contributions to the worlds of art, fashion and horticulture and horseracing.
A graduate of Foxcroft School in Middleburg, Virginia, Bunny Mellon was well known for her privacy, elegance and impeccable sense of style. Heir to the Listerine, Warner Lambert and Gillette fortunes, she was married in 1932 to Stacy Barcroft Lloyd and, after the couple divorced, to her former husband’s friend, Paul Mellon who was, at the time, the world’s richest man.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century, she was widely regarded as the epitome of good taste.
Wikipedia describes her as “an American horticulturist, gardener, philanthropist, fine arts collector, member of the International Best Dress List and thoroughbred racehorse owner/breeder.” She was all these and much, much more.
She decorated and ran homes in every corner of the world and was as enthusiastic about pale pastel-painted wooden floors as she was about dix-huitieme antiques. She loved Louis XV and XVI antiques mixed into calm, casual urban settings and often propped spectacular paintings by modern artists against the backs of chairs or leaned on a wall. Her art collection included many works by Mark Rothko including one of his paintings reportedly valued at over $125 million.
She will also be remembered for the gardens she created, especially The White House Rose Garden and The Jacqueline Kennedy Garden at the White House. Her French-inspired gardens at Oak Spring Farms in Upperville are emblematic of the restful, immaculately elegant and beautiful horticultural spaces she loved.
Bunny Mellon is also largely responsible for the popularity of potted topiaries of rosemary and thyme that lend a pleasing visual rhythm to rooms. Those who also enjoy these well-groomed earthy plants in otherwise pristine settings may now remember Bunny Mellon’s love of seeing them indoors.
“Nothing should stand out, she once told The New York Times in 1969. “It should all give a feeling of calm. When you go away, you should remember only the peace.”
Her sense of personal style was highly refined and confident. Many in the world of fashion believe that she and a few friends saved Christobal Balenciagia’s career and design house by ordering exclusively from him until his death.
Mrs. Mellon, who left her mark on the second half of the 20th century, fondly remembered friends and charities in her will.
Her descendants, East Coast charities including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Virginia Museum of Find Arts in Richmond and the Oak Spring Garden Foundation in Upperville were included in her will.
She also made provision for a key employee who helped her run seven households; a model airplane club that enjoyed special rights to fly planes over her Massachusetts property that she bequeathed to the Nantucket Conservation Foundation; and Carolyn Kennedy, whose mother, former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy was a close friend.
Her will also describes a building on her property that houses her extensive botanical library. Her intent was to bequeath it to charity along with its contents and funds to maintain the building, its adjacent greenhouses and 300 surrounding acres. The will directs her executor to identify the charity, but suggests that either Upperville’s Oak Spring Garden Foundation or the Lambert Foundation be the recipient.
Virginia Fout, a very good friend of hers, once remarked that Mellon believed a lady’s name should only appear in the newspaper three times: “…for her debut, her marriage and her obituary.”
Her honors include the Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the Royal Horticultural Society’s Veitch Gold Medal, the Henry Shaw Award, and the American Horticultural Society Landscape Design Award, and she has been recognized for her assistance during the restoration of the Potager du Roi at Versailles.
According to one of her Oak Spring Farms gardeners, “She loved to see snow on her gardens and waited for a snowy day,” to make her departure.
Her Oak Spring Foundation posted this note on their website following her death:
“With our deepest sorrow, we share the news of Oak Spring Garden Library’s founder, mentor, and guiding light, Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon, who passed away peacefully in the early snowy morning hours of March 17th, 2014. Mrs. Mellon profoundly touched many people. Her love of nature, flowers, gardening, books, and art will continue through her loving spirit and will forever be an inspiration.”
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