She counted royalty, prime ministers and celebrities amongst her inner circle, jet-setted between London, Corfu, the French Riviera and New York, and cultivated an exquisite collection of artworks and furniture thanks to her impeccable taste and high society connections, and now, Audrey Pleydell-Bouverie’s pieces are to be auctioned by Christie’s.
Although not as famous now as her fellow Bright Young Things, who she was photographed alongside in Cecil Beaton’s The Book of Beauty – Audrey James, as she was born, was just as chic, elegant and bohemian. The illegitimate granddaughter of King Edward VII via her mother, she was raised by American steel magnate William Dodge James, yet is thought to have been the biological daughter of Liberal politician Sir Edward Grey. She grew up in Sussex in an atmosphere of constant parties, with the guest list reading like a Who’s Who of high society.
Something of a tomboy with a love of country sports, Audrey caught the eye of two of the most famous bachelors of their day, the Prince of Wales (and future Duke of Windsor) and Lord Mountbatten, the beloved uncle of the Duke of Edinburgh. Yet she chose Captain Muir Dudley Coats for her husband – a wounded war hero, who sadly left her widowed just five years after their marriage. Her next choice was an American department store millionaire, Marshall Field III and alongside him she became a famed society hostess, whose guests included the likes of Cecil Beaton, Sir Winston Churchill and Fred Astaire. The marriage was an unhappy one, and the couple divorced in 1934. Husband number three was the Hon. Peter Pleydell-Bouverie.
Throughout her life, Audrey bought and refurbished beautiful homes: in 1936 she remodelled The Holme, a villa in Regent’s Park, with the help of Stéphane Boudin. It was this space she used as a backdrop for her impressive collection of Impressionist paintings – a handful of which are in Christie’s auction. She would later call on Boudin again to help her with Julians Park, a Jacobean manor house she purchased in 1940. Testimony to her taste is the fact that several of her pieces were loaned to the Tate during her lifetime – and that she left one of her paintings, Henri Fantin-Latour’s Azaleas and Pansies, to the Queen Mother in her will, and the work now sits in the Royal Collection.
Highlights from Christie’s sale include a pair of Queen Anne pier glasses, an Italian marble table attributed to the sculptor Giacomo Raffaelli and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s La Prairie. There is also a Henry Moore sculpture of a seated woman, a Salvador Dalí sketch and countless pieces of George III period furniture.
The Julian Parks and Six Private Collections sale begins on 8 June. You can browse the collection now here.
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