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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 Gothic.

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 notes.

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!

 

Verinha Ottoni.




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