Bunny Mellon’s Botanical Art Blooms in the Bronx
Don't miss this world class art collection at the New York Botanical Gardens.
If Rachel “Bunny” Mellon (1910–2014) had a singular passion in her more than a century of life, it would be her love of gardening. In addition to tending gardens from the age of 12, Mellon was an avid collector of botanical books, manuscripts, and artwork, a selection of nearly 80 of which are currently on view at the New York Botanical Garden.
The exhibition features some of the rarest items in Mellon’s collection, none of which can be found in the garden’s own Mertz Library. The works on view, which are both beautiful and culturally and historically significant, range from a 14th-century manuscript to 20th-century works by the likes of Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso. Renaissance masterpieces, too, share the spotlight with decorative art, contemporary lithographs, and 19th-century scientific models.
To house her impressive collection, Mellon founded the Oak Spring Garden Library on her estate in Upperville, Virginia. The first branch of the building opened in 1981, and the facility currently hosts 16,000 objects. To date, four catalogues of the collection have been published, and it is available in its entirety for public research.
The earliest work currently at the garden is unique manuscript, circa 1350, of Konrad von Megenberg’s Buch der natur, a natural history and medicine encyclopedia that doubles as the first German-language natural history text.
This is paired with artwork inspired by Holland’s tulipomania craze of the 1630s, a particular interest of Mellon’s. She was also a connoisseur of 18th- and 19th-century French art, such as the celebrated botanical artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Of more recent vintage is a Warhol piece featuring a playful recipe for a vine marinade, accompanied by illustrations of grape leaves.
“Countless imaginative creations have found their expression in flowers, and the cycle of their life has the strength of sensual pleasure with their scent, fruit, and seeds,” wrote Mellon in the forward to her 1997 catalogue An Oak Spring Flora. “Their presence inspires our tired spirit with their fragile being, and allows our minds to go beyond its earthly limits. Poets and lovers wander into their secret realms, hoping for permission to share part of their mystery.”
As Mellon no doubt could have told us, the power and beauty of botanical art across the centuries is fully present at the Botanical Garden.
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