In a packed salesroom at Sotheby’s London, hundreds of collectors gathered to witness the sale of the personal collection of Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire (1920-2014). Over 1000 participants drove the sale total to £1,777,838, over three times the pre-sale estimate (£500,000-700,000).
The youngest of the Mitford Sisters, the Duchess became one of the most loved figures of the 20th-century. For half a century the chatelaine of Chatsworth, one of England’s greatest stately homes, she was an instinctive entrepreneur, patron of the arts, author, countrywoman and – famously – a great poultry enthusiast. Her friends included President Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Lucian Freud, Evelyn Waugh, Alan Bennett, members of The Royal Family, Hubert de Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta and Cecil Beaton.
The items offered at auction today came from The Old Vicarage, a charming 18th-century house in Edensor, a village on the Chatsworth Estate, where the Duchess spent the last ten years of her life. Particular highlights of the auction included a true first edition of Evelyn Waugh’s best known novel, Brideshead Revisted (£52,500); a late 19th-century Japanese gilt-decorated lacquer Guardian figure (£62,500); and a pair of paintings by John Atkinson Grimshaw of Bolton Abbey, the much-loved Devonshire estate in North Yorkshire (£52,500).
A remarkable woman of our time, Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire (1920-2014) led a life as extraordinary as that of her siblings, the legendary Mitford sisters. The Duchess was a woman of elegant taste and sensibility. The wonderful objects with which she lived illustrate so much of her story, from exquisite jewels gifted by her husband to a rare copy of Brideshead Revisited personally inscribed by her friend Evelyn Waugh; all tell of a life well-lived. Painted by Freud and photographed by Weber, Testino, Beaton and Parkinson, it is the contents of her final home, The Old Vicarage at Edensor on the Chatsworth estate, which perhaps paint the most vivid final portrait. This historic auction will offer fine and decorative art, jewels and the Duchess of Devonshire’s library.