Highlights from the Collection of Vivien Leigh

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Hollywood icon Vivien Leigh secured her legendary status in the pantheon of all-time greats when she secured the most coveted role in cinema history as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. The legendary actress went on to win acclaim in a series of roles on both stage and screen and remains one of the UK’s most celebrated actresses. This September, the spotlight will fall on Vivien’s private side when Sotheby’s brings to auction ‘The Vivien Leigh Collection’. Passed down through Vivien’s family, the collection comprises paintings, jewellery, couture, books, furniture, porcelain, objets d'art and further items celebrating all aspects of her life, from the pre-war years in London, to Hollywood and beyond, up to her death in 1967. Drawn from the city and country homes Vivien shared with her husband Laurence Olivier, the pieces will give a new perspective on Vivien, from her appreciation of art and patronage of Modern British artists, to her passion for books and fondness for entertaining and interior design. Click ahead to see a selection of the highlights.

Vivien: The Vivien Leigh Collection
26 September | London

Highlights from the Collection of Vivien Leigh

  • John Piper, Notley Abbey. Estimate £8,000–12,000.
    Property from Vivien’s two homes, Notley Abbey and Durham Cottage, provide a glimpse into the private lives and passions of the Oliviers, from the porcelain, silver and glassware with which they entertained guests, to favourite pieces of furniture and books from their library. Notley Abbey in Buckinghamshire was more Laurence Olivier’s domain. Dating from the Middle Ages, it appealed enormously to Olivier, due in no small part to the fact that it had been endowed by Henry V. (Olivier had been awarded a special Oscar for outstanding achievement in his eponymous film the same year.) “I never had anything in my life I loved like that house. It was absolute idolatory…”, he recalled.

  • Vivien’s wig for the film 'A Streetcar Named Desire', inscribed with her name. Estimate £400–600.
    After Vivien and Marlon Brando’s acclaimed performances of the play on stage in London and New York respectively, they were chosen to star in the 1951 film adaptation. Vivien’s performance was to earn her a second Oscar as best actress. Tennessee Williams, the creator of Blanche DuBois, considered Vivien the perfect choice for the role of his vulnerable Southern belle in A Streetcar Named Desire and the “Blanche I had always dreamed of”. The pair hit it off instantly, becoming as ‘thick as thieves’; Williams felt that Vivien understood him and wondered whether “she realised that I lived with the same nervous torment”.

  • Diamond bow brooch/ pendant, mid-19th century.
    Estimate £25,000–35,000.
    Vivien loved clothes and jewellery, and was not afraid to mix historic jewels with contemporary couture. The bow motif appears frequently in Vivien Leigh’s wardrobe and this large mid-19th-century diamond bow brooch or pendant is the ultimate accessory and is just one of the jewels worn by her that features in the sale.

  • Felix Kelly, Durham Cottage, 1954.
    Estimate £3,000–5,000.
    Durham Cottage was beloved by Vivien, the Chelsea mews cottage was very much her world. It was an exquisite space created for London living. Over many years, it was converted into a stylish pied-à-terre and comfortable home, featuring a flower-filled sitting room with a painting by Sickert hanging over the fireplace, a small gold and cream dining room with rich satin curtains and glass chandeliers, and a blue and white striped kitchen.

  • Vivien Leigh’s personal copy of Gone with the Wind, given to her by the author Margaret Mitchell.
    Estimate £5,000–7,000.
    Vivien Leigh’s personal copy of Gone with the Wind is inscribed by the author Margaret Mitchell with a hand-written poem: ‘Life’s pattern pricked with a scarlet thread / where once we were with a gray / To remind us all how we played our parts / In the shock of an epic day’.

  • A gold ring inscribed 'Laurence Olivier Vivien Eternally'. Estimate £400–600.
    “Apart from her looks, which were magical, she possessed beautiful poise… She also had something else: an attraction of the most perturbing nature I had ever encountered”- Laurence Olivier recalling Vivien Leigh in 1982.

  • Augustus John, A portrait of Vivien, 1942.
    Estimate £5,000–7,000.
    This portrait shines a light on the untold story of Vivien’s deep engagement with art which she collected throughout her life. As she travelled the world for months at a time, she would not only buy new art from the countries she visited, but would also take select paintings with her to decorate her hotel and dressing rooms across the globe. Unsurprisingly, Vivien herself could not escape the attention of the artists in her circle. This beautiful drawing of Vivien in red chalk by Augustus John is a study for a painting commissioned by Laurence Olivier in 1942. The painting was never finished, allegedly because Olivier thought that the artist had become too infatuated with his subject. Around 45 artworks are included in the sale.

  • Gone with the Wind, film script, presented to Vivien Leigh by members of the cast, with photographs, circa 1939.
    Estimate £10,000–15,000.
    A dedicated reader of the Gone with the Wind book, Vivien kept a copy close at hand during filming and deeply resented any divergence from Margaret Mitchell’s text. On the final day of shooting, Olivia de Havilland (Melanie Hamilton) walked past Vivien, failing to recognise her. "She looked so diminished by over work…  Her whole atmosphere had changed. She gave something to that film that I don't think she ever got back."  Vivien went on to win her first Oscar for her performance in 1939. She was just 26 years old at the time.

  • A silver cigarette box, engraved with ‘Vivien and Larry Love Myron [Myron Selznick]’. Estimate £400–600.
    This silver cigarette box was gifted to the couple by Myron Selznick, the man who was instrumental in securing Vivien with the coveted role of Scarlet in Gone with the Wind.

  • A pink full length evening dress by the designer Victor Stiebel from circa 1961. Estimate £200–300.
    Vivien’s love for fashion was established early in her career when she modelled a magenta evening gown with turquoise tulle by Victor Stiebel for British Vogue in 1937. She remained lifelong friends with Stiebel.

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