Caroline Leeds

Artist and last ever Duchess of Leeds
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Caroline Leeds - as she styled herself as an artist - was the last ever Duchess of Leeds. Since the death of her first husband, the 11th Duke of Leeds, in 1963, she was widely known in many social circles in London and in France - for her sympathetic friendship, for her strikingly beautiful translucent pale blue eyes, which spotted everything - but she was also an artist of distinction.

Her first husband was not the last Duke of Leeds. When Jack Leeds died he was succeeded by an aged kinsman, Sir D'Arcy Godolphin Osborne, who had been British Minister to the Holy See, 1936-47, and who continued to live in Rome, cycling around the city, taking the more handsome students at the English College in Rome chastely out for dinner. The 12th Duke survived less than a year and the title became extinct.

Caroline had married Jack Leeds in 1955, as his third wife. Very much in love with him, she was deeply disappointed to find that she could not have children. She nursed her husband devotedly in his decline. Hornby Castle (between Bedale and Catterick) having been sold off in the 1920s, the Duke lived largely in Italy and France. After his death, Caroline bought a lovely house on the southern slopes of Lectoure, a French hill town with views on a clear day down to the Pyrenees. She became friends with everyone in the town and was a well-known figure in her favourite Nina Ricci hat.

Summering in Lectoure and wintering in London, she led a productive life as an artist of style and verve. She had been presented at court as a debutante at the end of the 1940s, but she took up art not as a mere accomplishment. She studied under Philip Lame and Bernard Adams, honing her skills in oils, watercolour and chalk. Her landscapes of her beloved Gers, and of other departments of France, were wonderful in both oil and watercolour. She showed in many group exhibitions in London, including the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, the Royal Society of British Artists, over half a century, as well as commercial galleries in Lectoure, London, Paris, New York and Monte Carlo. She painted in Italy, in Czechoslovakia, in all parts of Europe that took her fancy - her paintings boldly signed "Leeds". Her last exhibition in London was only weeks before her death, at Campbell's of London Gallery. She also produced admirable portraits, such as a series of Falkland war heroes now hung at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, including a memorable impression of the Duke of York.

Despite her love for France, Caroline Leeds's taste in food remained resolutely English and dating from the Attlee era. Undressed salad, blocks of ham, hard-boiled eggs; guests were shocked by the invariable Nescafé at breakfast. After I got to know her well, she accepted me fully as chauffeur, but my efforts to be cook were assiduously undermined. "Not too much garlic," she would shout into the kitchen. "Do please stop putting anchovies into the tomatoes." When she found me one evening happily making soup for the next day, she announced firmly, "One does not eat soup for lunch." At 7.30 the next morning she was banging on my bedroom door: "I've had to throw that soup away, it was heaving . . ."

She married twice more. "I've had two happy marriages, and one unhappy one," she confided around the time of her 70th birthday, adding coyly, "I wouldn't mind another happy one." The unhappy marriage was to Peter Hoos. The other happy marriage was to Sir Robert Hobart Bt, which lasted from 1975 until his death.

Caroline Vatcher was proud to have been born in Jersey, daughter of Colonel Henry Vatcher MC. Her stories about being peremptorily evacuated from the island during the Second World War were amusing. She always travelled with her Jersey passport - "frightfully useful", she said. She recorded her wish to be buried in Jersey.

Negley Harte

Comments