November 2013 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Mrs. T.S. Eliot's Collections at Auction

On Wednesday of this week, Christie's London will auction the collection(s) of the late Mrs. T. S. Eliot in a sale titled "A Life's Devotion." This extraordinary collection of portrait miniatures, British art, modern prints, jewelry, and furniture was amassed by T.S. Eliot's second wife, Valerie Eliot. She worked as the poet's secretary at Faber & Faber and eventually married him in 1957. After his death in 1965, his literary legacy became her life's work, and she was a deft manager; her successful licensing of Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats to create the hit musical Cats largely made possible a budget for substantial collecting. Valerie Eliot died in 2012.

Screen Shot 2013-11-16 at 3.13.08 PM.pngThe double sale, containing 385 lots in total, is replete with high points from Gainsborough to Picasso. A portrait miniature painted by Charlotte Bronte has already been snapped up prior to auction by the Bronte Society. One item perhaps not quite as coveted as those, but conveying a wonderful literary association is Percy Wyndham Lewis' Lady Reading (1921), a pen and ink watercolor of a woman reading a book (seen here at left). Both in content and provenance, this drawing evokes the friendships among modernism's artists and writers.

It was formerly owned by novelist Sydney Schiff (pseudonym, Stephen Hudson) whose social circle included the artist, as well as T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. It was Pound who introduced Lewis to Eliot, who then wrote to Schiff of Lewis, "I do not know anyone more profitable to talk to" (T.S. Eliot, The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Vol. 1: 1898-1922). Eliot also wrote for Lewis' magazine. According to Christie's, "The last oil that Lewis completed before his eyesight failed was of Eliot, painted in 1949, which is now in the collection of Magdalene College, Cambridge."

The estimate is $32,000-48,000.

Image via Christie's.