HEN PARTY: Jewelry, books, artwork, furniture and other personal effects belonging to Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, outstripped expectations at auction this week, selling for a total of $2.5 million, or three times the pre-sale estimate at Sotheby’s London.
More than 1,000 bidders snapped up objects from the Old Vicarage, a cozy 18th-century home on the Chatsworth estate in Derbyshire, England, where the late duchess spent the last decade of her life. She died in 2014, aged 94.
Objects in the sale ranged from countless poultry-themed ceramics, paintings and objects (the duchess loved her hens) to fine jewelry and the chintz-clad furniture from her sitting room.
Henry Wyndham, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and the sale’s chief auctioneer, said the late duchess “knew the world, and everyone knew her. It was wonderful, but perhaps unsurprising, to see her collection received so rapturously today. I am sure she would have been quietly amused by the whole event.”
Among the top-selling lots was a diamond and ruby brooch that fetched $87,394; a pre-publication presentation copy of “Brideshead Revisited,” inscribed by Evelyn Waugh for $73,411; the diamond pierced-heart brooch that the late Duke of Devonshire made for his wife to mark their 50th wedding anniversary, which went for $55,932, and an Edwardian-style carved mahogany and cane head and foot board at $27,966.
Debo — as the duchess was known to friends — was the youngest of England’s famed Mitford sisters, and presided over one of England’s greatest stately homes. She turned the money-sapping estate into a flourishing commercial enterprise that included a farm shop, wrote many books, and was a great patron of the arts.
She counted John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Lucian Freud, Evelyn Waugh, Alan Bennett, Hubert de Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta and Cecil Beaton among her friends.
Her archive of personal correspondence, including letters, books, manuscripts and documents relating to the Mitford sisters, has been left to Chatsworth House Trust, together with her collection of couture clothing.
These archives will be accessible to the public in due course, Sotheby’s said.