The life of a legend
IT’S now 50 years since Vivien Leigh died and, on September 26, Sotheby’s London will host a landmark sale of her paintings, jewellery, couture, books, furniture, porcelain and objets d’art, a collection that illustrates her life, from the pre-second World War years in London to Hollywood and marriage to Sir Laurence Olivier.
‘This is our chance to discover the real, and unexpected, Vivien Leigh,’ says Harry Dalmeny, Sotheby’s UK Chairman. ‘We’re all guilty of confusing our favourite actresses with the heroines they portray, of blurring Vivien’s identity with that of Scarlett O’hara or Blanche Dubois. But, behind the guise of the most glamorous and talked-about woman of her age, we find a fine-art collector, patron, even a bookworm, who was the intellectual equal of the literati, artists and aesthetes she counted among her coterie.’
He continues: ‘Her private collection does not disappoint. Vivien approached the decoration of her homes as if she were designing a set… with medieval Notley Abbey [where she lived with Olivier] looking positively Shakespearean.’
Estimates range from £100 to £100,000 and highlights from the collection—including a still-life of Chartwell roses painted and presented to her by Sir Winston Churchill in 1951 (£70,000–£100,000), with whom she enjoyed a close friendship—are currently on display at the New Bond Street showroom, London W1, until August 11; the full collection will go on show from September 22.
Other lots include Leigh’s copy of Gone with the Wind, given to her by Margaret Mitchell (£5,000–£7,000), a gold ring inscribed ‘Laurence Olivier Vivien Eternally’ (£400–£600) and a letter from Churchill dated July 18, 1957 (£2,000–£3,000), in which he promises to donate money to St James’s Theatre, which Leigh was trying to save from demolition—she’d made front-page headlines a week earlier when she was escorted from the House of Lords for her impassioned defence of the building.
The Wiltshire house to which Leigh often retreated and the home of her first husband (from whom she took her stage name), Leigh Holman, is currently on the market with Humberts
VIVIEN LEIGH’S grandchildren have put her Wiltshire retreat on the market. Despite her marriage to Sir Laurence Olivier, the acclaimed Gone with the Wind actress (above) remained close friends with her first husband, Leigh Holman. The couple was married for eight years and her name appears on almost every other page in the guest book for Grade Ii-listed Queen Anne Manor Farm House, Zeals, which has an asking price of £1.1 million. It’s set in just over an acre of grounds, with six bedrooms, formal gardens and outbuildings. Further land and buildings are available by separate negotiation. Humberts (01722 324422)
Top: Kagool couple: Vivien Leigh with her second husband, Sir Laurence Olivier.
Above: A ring, with the inscription ‘Laurence Olivier Vivien Eternally’, is one of many of Leigh’s personal effects up for sale