25 February 2016

Mrs Hammersley & the Duchess

Sotheby's Duchess of Devonshire Sale Lot 26. 

Nancy Mitford (1904-1973)
The Duchess writes (op. cit. p. 8 and 9) 'My parents seldom had friends to stay. One exception was Violet Hammersley, who came on prolonged visits. 'Mrs Ham' was a near contemporary of Muv [Lady Redesdale] but seemed much older. She was born and had spent the first years of her life in Paris, where her father Mr Freeman-Williams, was a diplomat. When he died, Mrs Freeman-Williams took her young family to live in London, where Muv remembered her as a friend of her own father. Mrs Ham was an unexpected friend of my mother: her circle was intellectual and artistic - from Somerset Maugham to Bloomsbury and beyond - while Muv was taken up with children and domestic affairs. According to Nancy [Mitford] she looked like El Greco's mistress and, with her dark hair and sallow complexion, would have certainly made an ideal model for the painter. She always wore black and was draped in shawls from head to foot. We called her 'the Widow' or 'Wid', not to her face, but when it occasionally slipped out she put on the expression of resignation usually reserved for Nancy's teases. By the time I knew her, her late husband's bank had failed and Mrs Ham's means were much reduced... In spite of the difference in generations, Mrs Ham became an intimate friend of my sisters and mine because of her deep interest in our doings'.

Later the Duchess writes (op. cit. p. 176) 'Mrs Ham provided a wonderful subject for Duncan and his two portraits of her are among my treasured possessions'. (we are g
rateful to Richard Shone for his kind assistance with the cataloguing of the present work.) from Sotheby's here

& revisit this post  from March 2012! with my Body I thee worship... about Mrs. Ham and the Mitford girls here


  1. Hello Gaye. Love the Mitfords and Duncan Grant. paging down I found the lovely surprise of the color echo in the skirt above with this portrait - marvelous! Hope your book is going well - G

    1. I just love that other portrait! the book is S L O W, some frustrations, and slow downs through no fault of my own, but it will be published for Spring 2017. thanks! Gaye



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