V ivien was renowned as a hostess of the most elegant and entertaining dinner and cocktail parties, which would often run into the small hours.
VIVIEN LEIGH AND LAURENCE OLIVIER, BRITISH EMBASSY, PARIS, 1947. FROM THE SELLING EXHIBITION CECIL BEATON: PORTRAITS OF VIVIEN LEIGH FEATURING LAURENCE OLIVIER © THE CECIL BEATON STUDIO ARCHIVE AT SOTHEBY’S
Looking through extant bills of Vivien’s expenditure (many of which are held in the Laurence Olivier Archive at the British Library in London) we see evidence of glamorous shopping trips to Mayfair’s best purveyors of fine silver, monogrammed linens, glass and porcelain, and famous names like Asprey, Fortnum & Mason and Thomas Goode & Co. appear again and again. The objects acquired from them give a glimpse of her passion for making a lunch or evening special and many appear in this auction.
TABLE SETTING FOR LUNCH IN HOLLYWOOD. SHOWING: ONE FROM A SET OF TEN WINE GLASSES, ‘CABBAGE WARE’ PART DINNER SERVICE, A BILSTON ENAMEL SALT, 18TH CENTURY, ONE FROM A GROUP OF FIVE.
Vivien’s qualities as a hostess were recognised by many of her famous guests, attesting to the glamour of her gatherings. These names are a roll call of the most famous of that time and include the likes of Cecil Beaton, Humphrey Bogart, Richard Burton, Gary Cooper, Noel Coward, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Alex Guinness, Rex Harrison, Katherine Hepburn, Danny Kaye, Alfred Lunt, Arthur Miller, John Mills, Marilyn Monroe, David Niven, Merle Oberon, Spencer Tracey and Orson Wells. All of them experienced Vivien and Larry’s hospitality and, tantalisingly, may have used some of the objects which appear in the sale.
TABLE SETTING FOR SUPPER AT NOTLEY ABBEY. SHOWING: PART OF A ROYAL COPENHAGEN DINNER SERVICE, GEORGIAN SILVER SALT AND MUSTARD POT, ONE FROM A SET OF TWELVE ENGRAVED CRYSTAL WINE GLASSES, ONE FROM A PAIR OF STAFFORDSHIRE ENAMEL CANDLESTICKS, 18TH CENTURY.
Sunny Alexander, Vivien’s assistant in Hollywood, recalled that her boss “gave excellent dinner parties”, with “wonderful China and crystal”. Contemporary photographs and inventories of the Olivier’s dining-room at their country home Notley Abbey illustrate Vivien’s love of antique table objects, which included 18th century Staffordshire enamels, particularly candlesticks.
Vivien would also collect objects whilst abroad - pieces such as the green-tinted wine glasses were reputedly bought by Vivien in Italy in 1951, when she was awarded the ‘Coppa Volpi’ award for best actress in A Streetcar Named Desire. Vivien’s taste, while traditional, is also a testament to her sense of fun and attention to detail.
Sitting at the Olivier’s dining-room table at Notley during the War, amongst her tableware and vases of fresh cut flowers from her own garden, there was “little evidence of rationing”, with Hugo Vickers describing Vivien’s table settings as “exquisite”…