A comprehensive and detailed biography of Bunny Mellon (1910-2014), socialite, landscape and interior designer, gardener, art collector and very rich woman indeed. Author Mac Griswold knew Bunny Mellon personally, as she was a friend of bunny’s daughter Eliza, and she later became Bunny’s confidante. This naturally adds depth, insight and veracity to her account, but it is obvious she admired Bunny and her chronicle occasionally verges on the hagiographic in spite of her best efforts to remain balanced and impartial. Through her marriage to Paul Mellon, and also thanks to her own personal immense wealth, the couple amassed an enormous collection of art, much of which can now be seen in the major US galleries, a great and lasting legacy. I couldn’t warm to Bunny Mellon at all, although I gained a certain sympathy for her as it soon became evident that her almost immeasurable wealth brought her little happiness or even contentment. She comes across as a lost soul. Her many friendships and romances rarely lasted and although her marriage to Paul Mellon did, it was definitely a troubled relationship. Gifted she certainly was, but a complicated and ultimately tragic figure. For those who delight in gardens, horticulture and garden design, the book will prove a joy, with extensive descriptions of Bunny’s creative endeavours, but personally these passages were of less interest. I was more interested in her social world – Queen Elizabeth II came to tea, Jackie Kennedy became a close friend and Bunny designed the White House Rose Garden for her, and she met many major artists.
Mac Griswold doesn't always observe a strict chronology, making the book a little disjointed and repetitive at times, but overall this is an illuminating and entertaining biography and I very much enjoyed it.
When I requested this arc I didn't know who Bunny Mellon was and checked on AD her gardens and residences.
I was fascinated by the taste, elegance.
This is the story of a creative woman who was extremely wealthy, not always happy, but who created great gardens and wonderful interiors.
It's also the story of the 1% of the 1%, a world so removed from me that i can only read about it.
The author is a good storyteller and the book is never dry or boring.
Many thanks to the publisher for this arc, all opinions are mine
For a woman who left many lasting marks, leaving a legacy at The White House and Versailles, had an intimate relationship with Jackie Kennedy, friendships with Givenchy, Balenciaga, and Schlumberger, and whose wealth was astounding not only because of whom she married, Paul Mellon, but she was born into it, an heiress to the Listerine fortune, she was extremely private.
Her taste was exquisite but not showy. Her style was fresh and understated. Her love was the landscape, and she had an eye all her own. She was self-taught. She was the woman behind the Rose Garden, asked to create something lasting by none other than JFK. She even brought Louis XIV’s food and vegetable garden at the Palace of Versailles, which was in shambles, back to its glory. She seemed to do everything with joy. Not for the notoriety.
Bunny became an avid art collector along with her husband. Her treasured Oak Spring Garden Library in Virginia houses her lifelong collection of thousands of historical books dedicated to garden design and treasures dating back to her father and maternal grandfather.
What sets this book apart from other Mellon biographies is the author. She was a childhood friend of Bunny’s daughter, who died a tragic death years after an accident. Griswold and Mellon were connected over many years and stayed in close contact, giving the author access to a personal history with her subject and shared connections.
Bunny had the means to do whatever she wanted but being a socialite was not on her list. She found happiness in the garden and in designing her many homes. However accomplished Bunny was, and she outlasted many, she lived to 103, she remained in a loveless marriage, and had unrequited crushes on a string of gay men she considered her best friends. All this and much more comes across in this meticulously researched book.
Thank you to Net Galley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for this advance reader copy in exchange for my honest review.
A fascinating look into a life of extreme privilege, I'LL BUILD A STAIRWAY TO PARADISE is meticulously researched and studded with intriguing detail. Mac Griswold crafts a solid biography of a woman who touched history on so many points.
Thanks to Farrar Straus and to Netgalley for the pleasure of an early read.