Wednesday, 2 March 2016

I'm not a worshipper at the Mitford shrine - they seem a thoroughly unpleasant bunch, though I did enjoy Nancy's novels when I was romantic and silly enough to believe in being seduced by handsome Frenchmen at Gare du Nord. (The only time a Frenchman ever tried to seduce me, it was on a train, not at the station - and I had to beat him off with a rolled-up copy of Cosmo. Enjoy it while it lasts, girls, because nothing like that ever happens once you hit 50.)
However ... even if I'm only a lukewarm Mitford-fan, I do like a good nosey in other people's houses, so I couldn't resist the pre-sale viewing this afternoon of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire's belongings. Sotheby's was looking fabulous with its entrance swathed in rain-drenched pink roses and jasmine - and a nice gentleman on the door to assure snoopers/prospective bidders that, yes, they were real. Well, it did look very pretty.
I was distracted on my way in by the display of vintage couture gowns  and thought that an ombré beaded Paul Poiret evening coat with a black velvet collar was infinitely nicer than anything worn at the Oscars - and at £14,475 was quite possibly cheaper, too.
But eventually I made it upstairs to the Duchess's kitchen - where the table was laid for tea. Now the objects on sale are from her later years after she downsized from Chatsworth into an old vicarage. But she was clearly not someone who saw eye to eye with Marie Kondo.
There was so much - stuff. Should the urge take you, you could bid for the Duchess's bag for life. (Okay, it's Emma Bridgewater, not Tesco, but there's not much difference.)
There were chickens everywhere. I guess people just saw stuff with chickens on and thought, 'That'll do for the Duchess.' There was some of the most phenomenally awful art you have ever seen in your life. Job lots of pig paintings; including what appeared to be a BOGOF offer, four for £800: pig snoring, pig snuffling, pig chomping and a bull thrown in for good measure. There was even an embroidered bull, est £200.
There were the Duchess's Elvis souvenirs. There was her copy of PG Wodehouse's Love Among the Chickens. And a Persephone book (Kitchen Essays) in a job lot of cookery books.
There was jewellery if you like nasty-looking spider brooches. I don't. Or a wiggly caterpillar brooch (est £1,000-1500). There were plastic Jemima Puddleduck lamps and two horrible artificial Christmas trees, none of which you'd pay more than a fiver for at a car boot sale.
There was a dreadful painting by Nancy, a snowscene from their nursery window - and that wouldn't cost more than a fiver either at any church jumble sale.
In the Duchess's bedroom, her bed was laid with a rather natty breakfast tray (I liked the breakfast tray) laid with real boiled eggs and toast. And there was Muv's dressing table, est £500-£1000. I thought I recognised the present Duchess taking photos of the bed but maybe I'm wrong. Luckily, everybody was being terribly polite and fawning and nobody was saying anything rude about the glut of chickens and I didn't have anyone to giggle with so I was behaving myself.
And it was fun seeing everything. And kind of sad, seeing someone's life dismantled.
As you might expect, Sotheby's cafe serves an excellent pot of Lapsang so I stopped for a cup of tea and a large slice of the Duchess's chocolate cake. Then remembered my station in life and trudged down the road to pick up some shopping at Waitrose.


Pam said...

Oh, I rather liked Debo - she seemed sensible. Also, friends of my daughter, when students at Sheffield, went for the day to Chatsworth. Being impecunious, they brought a little camping stove and were happily cooking sausages or something in the estate (not the actual garden) when an old lady pottered along and chatted to them very pleasantly for a bit. It wasn't till after she'd gone that they realised that it was Debo the Duchess (at the time). She didn't seem at all bothered about the sausage cooking, which impressed me.

They did have a very odd life, though.

Pam said...

(The Mitfords, not my daughter's friends.)

mary said...

I guess she was the best of them, Pam. What finally put me off the whole clan was that book Letters Between Sisters (might have the title slightly wrong) which made me realise how poisonous they were to each other. But there is something very odd about the whole Mitford industry!

galant said...

Debo's down-sized home (which you visited) was featured in the Sept 2010 issue of The World of Interiors. It looked very pretty although rather cluttered.
Margaret P

mary said...

It was all very twee and kitsch, Margaret - but I didn't visit, the rooms were recreated at Sotheby's; must say, they did it very well.

Gina said...

Definitely not to my taste but what fun to have a nosey around someone else's possessions. Like you say, a bit sad though.

Gillie said...

She seemed to be the nicest, definitely, in a no nonsense, not suffering fools gladly sort of way. But a bit odd, surely, putting everything on display like that? All the tat and kitsch anyway.

mary said...

It does seem quite an invasion of privacy, doesn't it, Gina.
Well,that's what happens, Gillie - and it made £1.8m,three times the estimate, so somebody must want it, even if it isn't our taste! I still have my catalogue for the last Jackie Kennedy sale - she had some lovely things - and remember they were even selling bits of driftwood that she'd found on the beach - that went for enormous prices.

Mise said...

I feel that you can Kondo any room but not a kitchen. Those dear old expired spices.

mary said...

They're like the dress you wore once for a wedding,Mise.