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Mrs. T.S. Eliot's estate to be auctioned Wednesday by Christie's

November 19, 2013|By Carolyn Kellogg
  • The estate of Valerie Eliot -- including a portrait of her husband, T.S. Eliot -- on view in advance of Christie's auction.
The estate of Valerie Eliot -- including a portrait of her husband, T.S.… (Twitpic / Christie's )

Nobel Prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot died in England in 1965; his widow Valerie made it her mission to keep his work alive. She died  in 2012 at the age of 86, and her estimable estate goes up for auction in London on Wednesday. Christie's is calling the auction "A Life's Devotion: The Collection of the Late Mrs T.S. Eliot."

Thirty-eight years his junior, Valerie, Eliot's second wife, carefully guarded his legacy. Literary watchers were surprised when she allowed the poems in Eliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" to be made into a musical. Few could have imagined that a book of cat poems by one of the most challenging poets of the early 20th century would find success on the stage.

Of course, it did: "Cats" opened in 1981 in London and played for almost 9,000 performances. It was performed on Broadway for 18 years, and has toured the world, having been translated into 20 languages.

With the success of "Cats," Valerie Eliot began collecting fine art. The Guardian writes that her estate has been declared "one of the finest collections of British art to come to the market in generations."

There are a few works by modern masters, including Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. A 1929 Francis Bacon watercolor is expected to sell for $64,000 to $97,000, although who's to say after the recent record-breaking sale of a Bacon triptych.

Her collection of miniatures -- small portraits that were popular from the 16th century through the advent of photography is considered exceptional. The most valuable single item may be a 16th century portrait of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, painted by Issac Oliver. It's the subject that's of interest: Devereux was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, thought by some to be her lover.

Mrs. Eliot's collection also incudes antique furniture and jewelry. The auction will not include books or literary manuscripts of her husband's, the Telegraph writes, "as anything to do with T.S. Eliot is considered sacrosanct."

The auction's proceeds will benefit the charity Valerie Eliot set up to benefit young poets and artists, Old Possum's Practical Trust.


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