This week I went to have a look at Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire’s personal collection at Sotheby’s 🎨.
The Duchess 👸 or ‘Debo’ was the youngest of the Mitford sisters, and I have to admit I am rather a Mitford fan. My first introduction to the Mitford’s was via Nancy Mitford’s books ‘Love in a Cold Climate‘ and ‘The Pursuit of Love‘ which are just wonderful – you should read them. The books are fiction but are inspired by her chaotic upbringing as part of a very British aristocratic family. Deborah was one of 7 children, their father was 2nd Baron Redesdale and their mother Sydney Bowles was rarely around (she gained the nickname ‘The Bolter’ 🐎as she was always dashing off places with different men). The girls all had rather intriguing lives – having attended their debutante balls 💃 – Nancy became a novelist and spent time living in Paris, Diana married Sir Oswald Mosley leader of the British Union of Fascists – Hitler was a guest at their wedding, Unity was also a prominent supporter of Nazism, Jessica became a Communist activist, and Deborah became a Duchess when she married the Duke of Devonshire.
So Deborah was the youngest of the sisters, and spent her time living at Chatsworth House 🏤, and on display at Sotheby’s were all her things they thought worth selling. I have never been to view a collection of items being offered at auction, before, and it was really fascinating. It is rather like going to a beautifully curated art exhibition 🎨, with the added bonus that it is free, they let you take photos 📷AND you can even touch things if you are very careful. They had laid the collection out by room – so you passed through the ‘kitchen’ with all her china ☕️ and tables and chairs, and then onto her ‘drawing room’ filled with book cases and books 📚, sofas and desks and all sorts of odds and ends 📻. The bed (in the bedroom) even had a tray with breakfast laid out on it 🐣- slightly creepily intimate. It was truly fascinating – and there is a real sense that you could almost be in her house, surrounded by her possessions. The difference being, anything can be yours, if you are willing to pay the right price 💵💵.
So I had a good wander about – there was a lot of crockery 🍴, a fun pre-edition of Brideshead Revisited inscribed by Evelyn Waugh 📘, Oscar de la Renta dresses 👗, paintings by Lucien Freud 🎨, and also, I have say, quite a lot of things, that if they had come out of any old persons house would be described as ‘junk’ 📺. But she was a Mitford, so rather than being donated to a charity shop, you get to pay a large sum of money for the privilege of owning the baskets she carried her chickens 🐌 in…. The jewellery 💍 was fun, but there is something a little creepy about purchasing ‘her’ rings, I feel, just because of who she was – and there did seem to be a lot of people who were mostly interested in the Mitford connection. Debo was a big Elvis fan 🎤, so amongst the teapots and the paper weights, there was a whole stash of Elvis memorabilia. The other odd thought is that many of the items on display will never be seen again, they will disappear into someone’s private collection, long hidden away – so I am very pleased I got to see the collection displayed altogether.
I really enjoyed having a look – and after, quickly passing through the Masters of Design display (which has some great jewellery drawings, we admired some tiaras 👑), Charles very kindly gave me a quick tour of the Contemporary Curated collection, which was fun and bright and I liked it a lot, particularly a painting by Alex Katz 💚.
I would massively recommend going to have a look at any pre-auction collection, it really was an intriguing and fun experience, I can’t wait to go again!
The auction was yesterday, and it sold for over £1.7m in total, double the expected price.