Sotheby's Sale of the Vivien Leigh Collection Soars to £2.2 Million
London--Incandescent star of stage and screen, Vivien Leigh’s power to fill theatres and auditoriums with her magnetic performances was indisputable; today at Sotheby’s in London, a half-century later, her appeal remained undiminished as collectors turned out in their droves to witness and take part in the sale of her personal collection. Over 1,400 participants from 52 countries drove the auction total to £2,243,867 ($3,031,016), over five times the pre-sale estimate.
Over the course of four days, some 4,000 people flocked to Sotheby’s to view first-hand paintings, furnishings, jewellery, couture, silver, books and further items celebrating all aspects of Vivien’s life. In a saleroom filled to capacity, all of the 321 lots offered found a buyer as lot after lot soared above estimate.
Commenting on today’s results, Harry Dalmeny, Sotheby’s UK Chairman, said: “On screen, Vivien delivered two of the most iconic lines of the century in her roles as Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche DuBois, performances that are indelibly ingrained in cinematic history. Today’s stupendous result makes abundantly clear that our fascination with this extraordinary woman shows no sign of abating. Bringing this collection to auction has been a journey of discovery, and with all the fresh research into her life, it’s been wonderful to reveal that Vivien was far more intelligent, witty and driven than most people realised. Her fans and the wider public have responded in kind.”
Vivien Leigh’s family commented: “Being able to share our grandmother’s legacy through her collection has ensured that her memory continues to live on. It’s been incredibly exciting finding out more and more about how Vivien lived her life, her love of art and books and old English houses, and the way she decorated her homes. We felt the time was right to share these personal objects with the world and just hope the successful bidders will enjoy these pieces as much as we all have.”
A present from Sir Winston Churchill to Vivien Leigh - this still-life of roses painted by the politician in the 1930s reveals the little-known story of their friendship. Study of Roses was sent to Vivien shortly after her visit to Chartwell, Churchill’s country home, in August 1951. It hung in her bedroom for the rest of her life: ‘Whenever I feel particularly low or depressed I look at those three rosebuds. The thought and the friendship in the painting is such a great encouragement to me…and I have the determination to go on’.
Estimate £70,000-100,000; Sold for £638,750
Vivien’s Smythson appointment diary dating from 10 January 1937 to 25 November 1939. The diary gives a unique insight into Vivien’s personal and professional life at the time she was catapulted to fame in her mid-twenties and first fell in love with Olivier. It lists hundreds of appointments as well as tantalising entries linked to Gone with the Wind.
Estimate £2,000-3,000; Sold for £15,000
Vivien Leigh’s personal copy of Gone with the Wind, given to her by the author Margaret Mitchell. The author gave Vivien this book when the two women met in Atlanta, Georgia, during preparations for the world premiere of the film. Vivien wrote to Mitchell on 14 December 1939 thanking her for the book and asking her to inscribe it for her. Mitchell stopped inscribing copies of Gone with the Wind several years earlier but, by way of compromise, Mitchell enclosed with her letter a loose leaf with four lines of verse taken from Robert W. Service's poem 'The Revelation', inscribed to Vivien, which Vivien placed in her book.
Estimate £5,000-7,000; Sold for £50,000
Gone with the Wind, final shooting script, presented to Vivien Leigh by David Selznick, the film’s producer. Copies of the screenplay, all inscribed by the producer, were given as Christmas presents, just a few days after the film's premiere in Georgia on 15 December 1939. Most copies were bound in half-morocco but this is one of a few copies, presumably to especially favoured recipients, that is fully leather bound.
Estimate £10,000-15,000; Sold for £58,750
The wig worn by Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois in the film 'A Streetcar Named Desire', inscribed with her name. Made by Stanley Hall for Wig Creations and possibly after a design by Lucinda Ballard, who was Oscar® nominated for her costume design in the film. Larry, writing to Stanley Hall on 10 August 1950, requested a wig for the character to be sent to Vivien in California, specifying the ‘parting to be central, but the character of the dressing…to be untidy, unkempt, poor and tatty.’ This untidiness was a deliberate decision to reflect the ‘nervous worn out character’ of Blanche, with Hall and Leigh favouring a thin, dull coloured wig.
Estimate £400-600; Sold for £7,500
An inscribed silver goblet by Georg Jensen - a wedding gift from Katharine Hepburn. Hepburn was Vivien’s maid-of-honour at Vivien and Larry’s marriage ceremony which took place on 31 August 1940 at San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, California.
Estimate £8,000-12,000; Sold for £12,500
A silver cigarette box, engraved with ‘Vivien and Larry Love Myron [Myron Selznick]’, a gift from the man credited with securing Vivien with the role of Scarlett O’Hara. Myron Selznick, Larry’s American agent and David’s brother, had bought the rights to produce Gone with the Wind. Despite spending $50,000 in the quest for his Scarlett, David was desperate to find the new girl the public wanted to fit the heroine as described in the novel: striking green eyes, slanted brows, black hair, magnolia white skin and an arresting face. Late in December 1938, when filming had started, Myron engineered the meeting between David and Vivien during the dramatic burning of Atlanta scenes.
Estimate £400-600; Sold for £10,000
Study for Portrait of Vivien Leigh by Augustus John, red chalk on paper. Larry commissioned a painting of Vivien by Augustus John in 1942. Vivien had around three to five sittings, and whilst the painting was never finished, allegedly because Larry thought that the artist had become too infatuated with his subject, John also did a number of drawings of Vivien, of which this work in red chalk is one.
Estimate £5,000-7,000; Sold for £18,750
A watercolour by Roger Kemble Furse of Vivien Leigh Reading with Tissy, a black-and-white stray adopted by Vivien in the mid-1930s.
Estimate £1,000-1,500; Sold for £62,500
Vivien’s Charm bracelet, 1940s
Two of the charms in this highly personal bracelet commemorate some of the most memorable achievements of Vivien’s career. Her performance in Gone with the Wind (1939) is commemorated by a charm designed as the novel by Margaret Mitchell from which the film was adapted, the interior pages revealing both her name and that of her character, Scarlett O’Hara. Similarly, the oval locket contains a recreation by Vivien of a painting of the famous entertainer and muse Emma, Lady Hamilton by George Romney. Vivien starred as Lady Hamilton in the 1941 film opposite Laurence Oliver, who played Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson.
Estimate £1,000-1,500; Sold for £33,750
The Xmas 1940 Wristwatch, 1940
This watch is likely to have been a gift from Larry to Vivien for Christmas 1940, marking their first Christmas together as a married couple. The exuberance of the inscription to the reverse, in Olivier’s own handwriting, speaks volumes of his joy at finally being married to his ‘Darling’. Vivien clearly loved the watch, as she was often photographed wearing it at numerous points throughout her life, in private and public.
Estimate £800-1,200; Sold for £25,000
The ‘Eternally’ Ring, 1940s
This token of love between Vivien and Larry is inscribed to the interior Laurence Olivier Vivien Eternally, in Olivier’s own handwriting.
Estimate £400-600; Sold for £37,500
The Streetcar Named Desire Jewel Case
Probably a gift to Vivien on the 12 October 1949, the opening night of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Aldwych Theatre, London. The theatrical production of Tennessee Williams’ play was directed by Olivier, whom was possibly the giver of this present.
Estimate £800-1,200; Sold for £11,250
Two albums of photographs of Vivien’s early life, including studio portraits of Vivien as a baby and young child, photos of Vivien as a child in Calcutta, and school photos from Roehampton, the convent school in England which she joined in 1920 at the age of six.
Estimate £300-500; Sold for £3,500
A large collection of photographs of Vivien and Larry in various film and theatre productions, including Vivien in A Yank at Oxford (1938), Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), with Larry in The Sleeping Prince, in The Doctor’s Dilemma, Ship of Fools and a small number of Vivien as Blanche DuBois and one as Scarlett O’Hara, as well as four portraits by Angus McBean.
Estimate £800-1,200; Sold for £9,375