Rachel Lambert Mellon’s collection of fine art and decorative objects and furniture is on view this week at Sotheby’s (the sale begins on Friday) and it is topic “A” at Manhattan cocktail parties. I’ve even received a few emails today peppered with sign offs like “…I’m running up to Sotheby’s to see the Bunny Mellon collection,” or “I’ll meet you after I see the Bunny Mellon collection.”The other night over dinner with some sophisticated French friends we got talking about the idea of taste and personal collecting in reference to the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We were trying to define what makes a personal collection so unique and decided it comes down to an individual’s clarity of vision, the ability to “go there” as one of my friends put it, to build a collection–a story, really–around one aesthetic ideal. This may sound incredibly snobbish, but very few people have this kind of vision. Call it taste. Taste is discipline, the ability to say “yes” to one thing and “no” to another. (Ms. Mellon’s aesthetic has as much to do with her taste in art as it does with her idiosyncratic style, the pluck of hanging a Van Gogh over the bathtub, or an unframed Pissarro over the fireplace). The best collections express a depth of passion and a nimble instinct. You can tell, for example, just looking at a real collection, that the individual picked one piece not only because it was superior in some way to the rest, but because it spoke to them in a way that other pieces did not. I’ve overheard people discussing their impressions of the Bunny Mellon preview exhibit–all ten floors of stuff–at Sotheby’s and it’s funny how the same observation is repeated over and over: the art is incredible, but the decorative pieces, on their own, don’t seem that unique or significant. How could they? Each piece is unique only as it relates to the whole. On it’s own a basket is just a basket. (Still, wouldn’t it be cool to bid on one of the baskets in her collection pictured above?) I suspect the reason so many people are running up to Sotheby’s to get a gander at the ensemble, has less to do with owning a piece of it and more to do with holding onto the last vestige of an old world, a world where this level of taste and kind of lifestyle was the norm. It’s gone now, we won’t see the likes of Bunny Mellon again anytime soon. We won’t hear or read about people who live with art and style the way she did. Here is a link to the Sotheby’s catalogue.
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