Art owned by Eliot’s widow on sale
LONDON — It’s the collection that “Cats” built.
A multimillion-dollar trove of works by artists including J.M.W. Turner, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Winston Churchill that were owned by poet T.S. Eliot’s widow will be sold in November in London later, Christie’s auction house announced.
Valerie Eliot, who died in November at 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 to be more lucrative than Eliot’s poetry, and allowed his widow to assemble a collection of British art valued at more than $7.6 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 U.S.-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 fit into the flat they lived in ... and became almost a shrine to everything T.S. Eliot had achieved,” Rock said.
The collection includes drawings and watercolors by 18th- and 19th-century British artists such as Turner, Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable.
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.
The sale also includes a collection of portrait miniatures from the 16th through the 19th centuries, and pieces of jewelry and furniture.
Valerie met T.S. 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.
Proceeds from the sale will go to Old Possum’s Practical Trust, an arts charity Valerie Eliot set up.