Bunny Mellon, who lived to 103, spent her long life collecting whatever she liked and her eye and taste were rewarded (posthumously) at Sotheby’s last night as all 43 master works brought in $158.7 million, topping the high estimate of $121 million. A 1970 canvas by Mark Rothko of brought in nearly $40 million but three paintings –two others by Rothko and one by Richard Diebenkorn– were not part of this auction as they were sold privately earlier this year for an undisclosed sum but they were valued upwards of $250 million!
The Sotheby’s auction was just the first in a series of works that Mrs. Mellon, and her financier husband, Paul Mellon, had collected over the years. They had also either donated many masterworks to institutions such as the National Gallery of Art in DC, which got more than 900 works, including Cézanne’s “Boy in a Red Waistcoat.” The work had decorated their five homes, including Oak Spring Farms, the 2,000-acre estate in Virgina, where Mrs. Mellon spent the last years of her life. Bunny was a BIG fan of Rothko (it shows) and she LOVED blue, like Lucio Fontana’s “Concetto Spaziale (Blu)” from 1968 which hung in her Upper East Side townhouse bedroom and sold for almost a million and a Georgia O’Keeffe painting of a barn that hung in her Virginia dining room sold for $3.1 million.
The auction also included several examples of furniture by Diego Giacometti (Albert’s brother) whom Bunny met through designer Givenchy. She commissioned bronze furniture and sculptures but, not liking bronze, asked Giacometti to paint them off-white for her. The two coffee tables sold for $1.7 million and $1.4 million each! Most of these works were bought 50+ years ago for what seems like nothing now, but I’m sure was a fortune then –nevertheless, the return was phenomenal. Nothing appreciates like art and real estate, kids.