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Sotheby's to offer property from the personal collection of Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire
A red and black leather novelty jewel case in the form of a butterfly by Asprey, £800-1,200. © Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Property from the personal collection of the inimitable Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire (1920-2014), will be offered at Sotheby’s London on 2nd March 2016. The youngest of the Mitford Sisters, and for half a century the chatelaine of Chatsworth, one of England’s greatest stately homes, the Duchess was at the very heart of British rural, cultural and political life. Her friends included President Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, Lucian Freud, Evelyn Waugh, Alan Bennett, Prince Ali Khan and members of The Royal Family. She was dressed by Hubert de Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta, Balmain and Balenciaga, and was photographed by Mario Testino, Bruce Weber and Cecil Beaton.

An instinctive entrepreneur, patron of the arts, author, countrywoman and – famously – a great poultry enthusiast, the Duchess spent the last ten years of her life at The Old Vicarage, a charming 18th-century house in Edensor, a village on the Chatsworth Estate. Over 450 lots of personal belongings and chattels from her home, attesting to her remarkable life, will be offered for sale with estimates ranging from £10 – 40,000. Together they are estimated to realise £500,000-700,000.

Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire’s family commented: “Our mother was very clear about how things should be organised following her death. She left precise instructions for a large number of personal legacies and specific bequests to the Chatsworth House Trust, and the remainder of her possessions she left to us. Given the kind of person she was, and the rich and varied life she led, there are more belongings than we can together accommodate. We are keeping items that are particularly precious to us, but we have made the decision to consign the remainder to Sotheby’s.

Our mother was always fascinated by the auction process, so we feel sure she would be delighted at the prospect of this sale and would be very happy to know that some of her possessions were to go to new homes where they will be cherished and enjoyed.”

Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire’s archive of personal correspondence – 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.

Objects offered in the sale range from furniture, such as exquisite Regency chairs commissioned by Georgiana (the famous wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire), to objets d’art and artworks acquired by Deborah, Duchess of Devonshire, over her lifetime: two sketches by Jacob Epstein (from a set of four, one of which Lucian Freud had used as a coal shovel); photographic portraits of the Mitford sisters; and a clock given to her by Prince Ali Khan. Personal jewellery includes a diamond heart-shaped brooch designed by her husband Andrew, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, and given to her to mark their Diamond wedding anniversary, as well as myriad butterflies, beetles, spiders and caterpillars rendered as brooches in diamonds, gold and gems. Over 130 paintings, drawings and prints attest to her lifelong patronage of the arts, including works by the artists Lucian Freud, Duncan Grant and Jo Self (former artist-in-residence to His Holiness the Dalai Lama).

Following the Duchess’s death in 2014, HRH The Prince of Wales praised her “…unique personality with a wonderfully original approach to life…”, and this is mirrored throughout the sale. Her beloved collection of Elvis Presley ephemera will be offered, as will items reflecting her love of rural life. The sale includes Shetland pony harnesses (she owned and bred over fifty ponies), and forty lots relating to perhaps her greatest passion and lifelong interest – her hens. She once treated Oscar de la Renta to dinner at Chatsworth with her hens and chicks nesting in glass boxes as the table centrepiece. The sale also includes a pair of monogrammed travelling boxes for poultry and a chick-shaped powder compact.

A browse through the Duchess’s library reveals some of the lives she touched. Books inscribed from the Kennedy family attest to her lifelong friendship with the American dynasty. Her brother-in-law, Billy, married Kathleen ‘Kick’ Kennedy, sister of J.F.K., and through her, the Duchess formed a close friendship with the President and his siblings. Among the other volumes are books inscribed by Madonna, Henry Kissinger, and her friend Evelyn Waugh. The library’s crowning glory is one of only fifty pre-publication copies of Brideshead Revisited from 1944 inscribed by Waugh and estimated at £15,000-20,000.

The sale will be followed by “Never a Bore: Deborah Devonshire and Her Set by Cecil Beaton”, an exhibition of Cecil Beaton’s photographs of the Duchess and her glittering social, that will be staged at Chatsworth from 19 March - 3 January 2017.

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