Ralph Richardson Collection Auctioned - Sotheby's
Sir Ralph Richardson died in 1983.
In the actor's collection to be sold
was a photograph called Pride of Place,
which was barred from publication
and kept under lock and key for over
10 years. It is a photo of three great
knights of the theatre: Sir Ralph
Richardson, Sir Alec Guinness and
Lord Olivier; wearing Panama hats
and a carrying walking-sticks; they
looked more like three gentlemen out
for an afternoon game of bowls rather
than three theatrical "greats".
The photograph, which was taken by
Terence Donovan will be sold to raise
money to help HIV/AIDS sufferers.
Richardson and Gielgud acted so many
times together that they joked that
they were like "Laurel &
Hardy"! They also had remarkably
similar tastes in the treasures that
they collected: polite English Georgian
furniture and 18th Century porcelain.
Another beautiful sale item was Lady
Richardson's dressing table, a solid
structure in pale oak bought at Heal's
in 1930, a gift from her husband to
which he added a swivelling star-shaped
mirror; also being sold was their
magnificent four-poster bed in Chippendale
When Richardson died in 1983 his wife
moved from their Regent's Park Home
to a Belgravia mews-house. She recreated
his study as it had been in their
former home with his beloved writing-desk
and editions of Shakespeare annotated,
as they were, with Richardson's own
It was a while before Richardson made
his mark in the theatre. He had started
out at Art School, which held him
in good stead when choosing paintings
etc. for this collection. But he worked
hard to learn his craft as an actor
and no one more deserved his success.
In the poignant play Home in which
he appeared with Gielgud in the 1970s,
Richardson wore one of his trademark
hats with a curly brim allowing his
face to be lit to its advantage. Offstage
he was rarely seen without a hat (or
a motorbike helmet!!) and his hat
stands were very much used in his
home. He was thought of as a bit of
an eccentric because he rode his beloved
BMW motorbike until quite advanced
in years and thought nothing of roaring
up to the stage door on it!! In contrast,
he always dressed for rehearsals formally
- in jacket and tie - unlike the casual
clothing of his fellow-actors.
Richardson met his wife Mu (the actress
Meriel Forbes) in 1936 and they married
in 1944. Although they were an acting
partnership her acting came second
to looking after Ralph and their home.
The sale is full of gifts that they
had given to each other, memories
of a long and truly happy marriage.
Although Richardson lacked the romantics
in looks in comparison to his contemporaries
in the acting profession he had a
genuine earthiness and great kindness.
On his 80th birthday he wrote an article
for the Observer quoting a verse from
the Earl of Rochester's poem Love
and Life: "All my past life is
mine no more The flying hours have
gone: Like transitory dreams giv'n
o'er, Whose Images are kept in store
By memory alone."
Rather a lovely epitaph, I thought!