Bunny Mellon auction fetches $218 million
Elite collectors have put a price tag on more than 1,500 items that belonged to reclusive American socialite Rachel “Bunny” Lambert Mellon : $218.1 million.
That’s how much Sotheby’s auction house in New York City generated in sales during the two weeks it took to unload the eclectic art, jewelry and interior property collections of Bunny Mellon , a style icon among the nation’s super wealthy who died in March at 103 years old.
The vast majority of the 1,551 lots offered — 85 percent — surpassed their high estimates, Sotheby’s announced Nov. 24. The series of auctions brought in double the amount of money Sotheby’s anticipated.
“The great thing about auction is that it’s unpredictable,” Sotheby’s jewelry specialist Lisa Hubbard said. “The auction becomes a very real sales room in which to see values in real time without all the hoopla.”
In the past week alone, more than 5,000 visitors explored 40,000 square feet of the New York auction house used to display personal items that adorned the supremely private estates in the United States and abroad of Bunny Mellon, heir to the Listerine fortune, second wife to Paul Mellon and close friend to Jackie Kennedy,
“There’s no qestion that Bunny is known for her impeccable taste — refined and seamless integration of fine and decorative arts into beautifully appointed interiors as well as exteriors, since she was an avid gardener,” said Sarah Hall, director of curatorial affairs at the Frick Art & Historical Center in Point Breeze.
The most stunning piece of jewelry — a 9.75-carat Magnificent and Rare Fancy Vivid Blue Diamond — shattered world records for diamond sales after 20 minutes of heated bidding by seven collectors.
The pear-shaped gem sold for $32.645 million to an undisclosed Hong Kong buyer, who named the stone the Zoe Diamond.
That comes out to $3.348 million per carat, toppling by nearly $1 million the world record for price-per-carat of any diamond sold at auction. It’s the fourth-highest paid for any diamond, and the highest anyone has bid on a blue diamond, Sotheby’s said.
The diamond was offered alongside the likes of costume jewelry, porcelain vegetables and unique trinkets reflecting Bunny’s passion for gardening and intent on buying what she liked rather than what was popular.
Bunny’s jewelry and other objects accounted for $45 million in sales, and interior property brought in $14.3 million.
Among the top sellers:
• Two large oil expanses by Mark Rothko brought in more than $34 million each.
• A Chinese export porcelain “Pseudo Tobacco Leaf” from around 1775 went for $437,000, nearly double its high estimate.
• A sculpture by Bunny’s longtime friend, Diego Giacometti, of the Mellon couple’s champion race horse, “Mill Reef,” sold for $149,000 — more than 20 times its estimate.
The series began with a Nov. 10 art auction that generated sales totaling $158.7 million, roughly double the high estimate for 43 works spanning four centuries. One hundred percent of those artworks sold, a rare success the auction world dubs a “white-glove” sale. The auction series concluded with the final round of interior property sales late Nov. 23.
Auction proceeds will go to the Gerard B. Lambert Foundation to fund Oak Springs Garden Library, the massive collection of horticultural published works on the Mellons’ 4,000-acre estate in Upperville, Va.
Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8514 or [email protected]