Treasure trove of art owned by TS Eliot's widow to go under the hammer

 

It's the collection that Cats built. A multi-million pound treasure trove of works by artists including JMW Turner, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Winston Churchill owned by poet TS Eliot's widow will be sold in London later this year.

Valerie Eliot, who died in November aged 86, bought the artworks with royalties from the hit Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats, which was based on her husband's volume of light verse Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.

The musical proved more lucrative than Eliot's poetry, and allowed his widow to assemble a collection of British art valued at more than £5 million in the London home she had shared with her husband.

Orlando Rock, deputy chairman of Christie's Europe, said Valerie Eliot bought art as "a celebration of the best of British" and a tribute to her US-born husband, who had become a beloved British poet by the time he died in 1965.

"It was done on a very domestic scale," Rock said. "It all fitted into the flat they lived in ... and became almost a shrine to everything TS Eliot had achieved."

The collection includes drawings and watercolors by 18th- and 19th-century British artists such as Turner, Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable, whose landscape "Helmingham Dell, Suffolk" is valued by Christie's at between 300,000 and 500,000 pounds.

Eliot's rich trove of 20th-century art includes valuable works by sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth and painters Bacon, Freud, David Hockney and L.S. Lowry, a popular chronicler of working-class urban life. Lowry's seaside painting Deal Sands is on sale with an estimate of £150,000 to £200,000.

There's also a self-portrait by Stanley Spencer, which the artist sold at a village fair in the 1950s for £11, now valued at between £200,000 and £300,000.

"The Cathedral, Hackwood Park," a tree-lined landscape by Churchill, is expected to fetch between £200,000 and £300,000.

The sale also includes a collection of portrait miniatures from the 16th through the 19th centuries, and pieces of jewelry and furniture.

Valerie met TS Eliot at London publisher Faber & Faber, where the Nobel literature laureate was a director and she a star-struck secretary who had been a fan of his work since her teenage years.

They married in 1957. After the poet's death, Valerie spent almost four decades as guardian of his literary legacy.

In keeping with his wishes, she refused to co-operate with would-be biographers. But she welcomed the unlikely idea of a stage musical based on Possum's Book of Practical Cats, which became a global sensation.

Proceeds from the Christie's sale will go to Old Possum's Practical Trust, an arts charity Valerie Eliot set up with some of the money from Cats.

The works will go under the hammer on 20 November in London. Highlights are on view in London from 28 June to 2 July.

AP

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