Sir Winston Churchill’s gift to Vivien Leigh – a still-life of roses painted by the politician in the 1930s has sold for over nine times its pre-sale estimated price at £638, 750. It 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’.
Incandescent star of stage and screen, Vivien Leigh’s power to fill theatres and auditoriums with her magnetic performances was indisputable; 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 the 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 said: “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.”