The legacy of the Duchess of Devonshire

Deborah Cavendish’s personal collection includes a previously unknown painting of Lismore Castle, her Elvis ephemera, and a signed first edition of ‘Brideshead Revisited’

A previously unknown painting of Lismore Castle, Co Waterford, that hung in the Duchess of Devonshire's bedroom in England, has come to light and is to be sold at auction next month. Deborah Cavendish – one of the Mitford sisters and the 11th Duchess of Devonshire – died in 2014, aged 94.

Sotheby’s has announced the sale of items from her personal collection including furniture, jewels and art. The duchess was chatelaine of Chatsworth, one of England’s greatest stately homes, and also of Lismore Castle, the Irish seat of the Dukes of Devonshire since the 18th century.

The duchess’s husband died in 2004 and her son Peregrine became the 12th Duke of Devonshire. She spent the last 10 years of her life at The Old Vicarage in Edensor, a village on the Chatsworth estate. More than 450 lots of personal belongings and chattels from her home will be offered for sale in London on March 2nd.

Among them is a painting entitled Lismore Castle with Mrs Hammersley in the Foreground by Duncan Grant. The oil-on-panel, dating from 1954, measures 37cm by 50cm (14½in by 19¾in) and is estimated at £1,500-£2,500 (€2,100-€3,500). The duchess had this work hanging in her bedroom at Chatsworth and, says Sotheby's, had written: "Lismore [Castle] is hung too high to see Mrs Hammersley in the shadow of the Irish yew, but she is there all right, wrapped in shawls as usual."

Grant (1885-1978) was an English artist and a central figure in the Bloomsbury Group along with his partner, Vanessa Bell and her sister, the novelist Virginia Woolf. He lived at Charleston in East Sussex. Mrs Hammersley – a wealthy widow – was a friend of the Mitford family and known to the Mitford Girls as Mrs Ham.

Both Grant and Hammersley were guests at Lismore Castle in 1954 when the painting was made. Paintings by Grant are held in various British galleries and museums but many are in private collections and occasionally turn up at auction. In 1975, in honour of his 90th birthday, exhibitions were held at the Tate Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

Sotheby's says the Duchess of Devonshire "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".

“Poultry enthusiast” She was “an instinctive entrepreneur, patron of the arts, author, countrywoman and – famously – a great poultry enthusiast”. 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.

In a statement, her family said: “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.”

Other highlights in the sale include a lot described, intriguingly as "Her Grace's Collection of Elvis Presley Ephemera" (the duchess was a big fan, apparently) including a novelty Elvis telephone previously installed in the blue drawing room at Chatsworth; "five Elvis fridge magnets" and "Two plastic bags from Graceland" (£500-£1,000).

A pink gold and quartz horse-form desk clock by Cartier was a gift from Prince Ali Khan (£4,000-£6,000); a diamond brooch, designed by Andrew, 11th Duke of Devonshire, as a heart pierced with an arrow, was presented by him to the duchess to mark their diamond wedding anniversary in 2001 (£7,000-£10,000).

A late Victorian brass novelty inkwell in the form of a lobster is estimated at £300-£500 and, a set of red deer antlers from the 20th century, sprayed gold by the duchess and used as a hat stand at Chatsworth (£500-£700).

More expensive lots include a Japanese gilt-decorated lacquer “guardian” figure from the Meiji period, late 19th century, acquired by the duchess’s grandfather, Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, 1st Baron Redesdale (1837-1916) in Japan and probably presented to him by Emperor Meiji (1852-1912) (£20,000-£30,000).

Rare book collectors will be interested in "a true first edition of Evelyn Waugh's best-known novel, Brideshead Revisited, distributed by the author to his inner circle before general publication, inviting their suggestions and revisions.

One of 50 pre-publication copies, only a small number were inscribed by the au-thor ("Debo & Andrew, with love from Evelyn, a very old-fashioned story"). Writing many years later, the duchess observed: "In spite of his uncertain ways, Evelyn remained a friend and a generous one . . . He sent us the limited edition of Brideshead Revisited in its floppy dark blue cover." The estimate is £15,000-£20,000.

Among the unique collectibles in the sale is an iron and steel “tooth” blade from the borer machine used to excavate the Channel Tunnel from about 1988. “The duchess, as a member of the board of tarmac, was present when the machine broke through the final section of the tunnel and was given this as a memento of the day.” (£800-£1,200).

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