Going, Going, Gone With the Wind: Highlights of the Vivien Leigh Auction
The Vivien Leigh auction brought in £2,243,617, which is about $3,000,000. The bidding lasted for roughly seven and a half hours, with all 321 items selling. I wasn’t able to be in London, so I watched the auction live from my computer. It was very exciting to hear and to watch the bids come in as the prices climbed on certain items. Listed below are a few of my favorite things from the auction.
Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind, 1939
The biggest seller of the day was a painting by Winston Churchill (Lot 245). This Study of Roses sold for £500,000 (hammer price £638,750). It’s oil on canvas, signed W.S.C in the bottom left corner and measures 20 inches by 14.5 inches. Churchill gifted the painting to Vivien, in 1951.
She wrote to Churchill, I should like to show you where the painting you gave me hangs. It is in my bedroom dear Sir Winston and I look at it every day as I wake and every night as I go to sleep… (Vivien Leigh, letter to Sir Winston Churchill, 14th February 1961, The Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge, CHUR 2/527A). Noting her decor, I think it’s only apt that she kept the painting in her bedroom.
Vivien Leigh’s bedroom
Churchill’s book, Painting As A Pastime, was another big hit with the bidders. It sold for £15,000. Sotheby’s listed the first edition book as full blue morocco by Zaehnsdorf, spine lettered in gilt, gilt dentelles, marbled endpapers, some very light rubbing to boards. The personal inscription read, To Vivien Leigh, from Winston S. Churchill, 1950.
Winston Churchill’s inscription to Vivien Leigh, Painting as a Pastime
Gone With the Wind
I really hope that whomever purchased these three items were representing a museum! Vivien’s first edition copy of Gone With the Wind sold for £50,000. The book features an inscription from the author, Margaret Mitchell, to Vivien Leigh.
To Vivien Leigh–
“Life’s Pattern pricked with a scarlet thread
where once we worked with a gray,
to remind us all how we played our parts
in the shock of an epic day.”
The lines are from Robert W. Service’s poem The Revelation. Mitchell wrote them on a separate sheet of paper, which Vivien attached inside her book.
Vivien’s personalized copy of the Gone With the Wind script sold for £58,750. David Selznick gave these special, presentation copies as gifts for Christmas, 1939. To read more about her script, and other GWTW scripts that have been sold, please follow this link.
A Gone With the Wind photo album was also auctioned. It’s estimated price was £3,000 to £5,000 and it sold for £8,750. The album contained 28 production still photographs from ‘Gone With The Wind,’ with two photographs from ‘Fire Over England’ mounted at the end, also with five photographic portraits of Leigh loosely inserted, including three studio portraits, by Lenare (on her wedding day, 1932, photographer’s stamp on the reverse), Vivienne (c.1930s, photographer’s stamp on reverse), and Dollings (photographer’s stamp on the reverse), a photograph of her seated in furs (stamp of C. Norman Probert on the reverse), and a further still from ‘Gone With The Wind.’
Clark Gable as Rhett and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett
Two of Vivien’s appointment books were placed on the auction block. The first one, which is dated from January 10, 1937 to November 25, 1939, sold for £15,000. In this book, Vivien noted that she Told Leigh (her first husband, Leigh Holman) presumably about Laurence Olivier. Then, on June 16, she wrote Left with Larry. The second appointment book only sold for £3,250 and was dated for the year 1953. This was also an important time in Vivien’s life as ’53 was the year she was diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder.
The Roger Furse paintings all sold very well, but this one, of Vivien Leigh and Tissy, really brought home the bacon. The selling estimate was listed as £1,000 to £1,500 and it sold for £62,500.
A sketch of Vivien by Augustus John sold for £18,750. It was a Study for Portrait of Vivien Leigh, signed and dated 1942. The medium used was red chalk on paper and it measured 15.5 inches by 11 inches.
Vivien Leigh’s own painting of Italian Landscape sold for £6,875. The auctioneer noted that this was the first painting by Vivien to be sold. The selling estimate was listed as £200 to £300. It’s oil on canvas and measures 12 inches by 16 inches. I’m a little surprised that this painting didn’t reach the £10,000 mark.
A Streetcar Named Desire
Vivien Leigh’s wig, which she wore as Blanche Dubois, in the film production of A Streetcar Named Desire, had an estimated selling price of £400 to £600. It sold for £7,500. The wig came with a photograph of Vivien wearing the wig, for a hair and make-up test.
Lot# 282 was a gorgeous jewelry case, apparently presented to Vivien Leigh, by Laurence Olivier, on the opening night of A Streetcar Named Desire’s stage production. From the NYT: The crocodile case is embossed with the initials V.L.O. and 12th October 1949, the date of the London stage premiere of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ in which Ms. Leigh starred and Olivier directed. The selling estimate was £800 to £1,200 and it sold for £11,250.
Vivien Leigh’s watch sold for £25,000! The engraved watch (Vivien Larry Only!! Darling Xmas 1940) features rubies and diamonds. Sotheby’s states that it was likely to have been a gift from Larry to Vivien for Christmas 1940, marking their first Christmas together as a married couple.
Vivien Leigh’s charm bracelet was Lot 315. The estimated price was £1,000 to £1,500 and it sold for £33,750. Description: the double curb link bracelet set with a six charms including: an oval locket inscribed Lady Hamilton with the initials VL, containing a photograph of Vivien Leigh as Lady Hamilton and a portrait by George Romney; a book inscribed Gone with the Wind, the pages inscribed Vivien Leigh and Scarlett O’Hara, with an engraved image of the character; a round charm with a design of a boat against a sunset, the sky of blue chalcedony; a jadeite pendant carved with a design of a bat; and two chalcedony drops.
Sotheby’s called the last item of the auction the ‘Eternally’ ring. This stunning little ring was engraved with some kind of floral motif. Inside the ring’s band were the following engraved words: Laurence Olivier Vivien Eternally. The ring’s estimated selling price was only between £400 to £600. The actual selling price was £37,500.
I was really surprised that this photo of Laurence Olivier sold for £6,000 (selling estimate £200 to £300). Olivier signed this photo in the bottom left corner– from L to his V forever –And he spelled LOVE diagonally, in red ink!
Laurence Olivier inscription spelling LOVE diagonally
A silver, presentation mug to Laurence Olivier: later embossed and chased with scrolls, flowers and fruits and engraved with initials ‘LO’ and inscription: ’12th June 1947 / from G[?]…’ maker’s mark, London standard and date letter for 1722. The date refers to Olivier’s knighthood and appearance in the Honours List. Sold for £3,000!
This first edition of Ian Fleming’s book, Casino Royale, sold for £30,000!
Truman Capote’s true crime novel, In Cold Blood, sold for £16,250. Capote had inscribed the book to Vivien with the following: for dearest Vivien, with much love, Truman.
Thanks for joining me for this recap of the Vivien Leigh auction! If I missed your favorite item from the auction, then please let me know and I’ll add it to the post.
All images are from Sotheby’s as are all italicized item descriptions.