The list of compelling Southern homes is long, but there is perhaps none more intriguing than Oak Spring Farm, near Upperville, Virginia. The 4,000-acre estate and Thoroughbred horse farm was the retreat of the notoriously private Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, who died this past March at the age of 103. An art patron, philanthropist, and true grande dame, Mellon was known for her impeccable eye for beauty and especially her lifelong passion for landscape design (she redesigned the White House rose garden for her close friend Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961). Oak Spring became a laboratory for Mellon’s love of gardening as well as a repository for the world-class art, jewelry, furniture, and decorative objects she collected alongside her husband, the late financier Paul Mellon.
This November, Sotheby’s will devote three separate auctions to the Mellon collection, encompassing some 2,000 items, including paintings by the likes of Picasso and Rothko and a rare pear-shaped blue diamond. But one of Mellon’s hallmarks was her love of objects both grand and humble. She collected what she found beautiful, and the Interiors auction, by far the largest of the three, includes such items as well-worn walking sticks, English horse engravings, and a vast array of ceramics, from hunt-themed punch bowls to antique tureens shaped like bundles of asparagus. As Mellon once said of her vision for Oak Spring: “Nothing should stand out. It all should give the feeling of calm. When you go away, you should remember only the peace.”
Exhibitions of the auction items at Sotheby’s in New York begin October 31 with the Masterworks collection followed by Jewelry and Interiors on November 15. Proceeds from the sale benefit the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation, established by Mrs. Mellon in memory of her father to support horticultural and educational endeavors.