Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, Art Champion, Dead at 94

Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire Photo via: Jim Dixon's Blog

Deborah Cavendish, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire and last of the flamboyant “Mitford Girls,” has died aged 94. Her death was announced by her son in a statement released by the family’s estate, Chatsworth House.

Born Deborah Freeman-Mitford in 1920, the Duchess was the youngest of the Second Baron of Redesdale’s six daughters, who scandalized high society with their widely varying political views. Her sister, Unity, was a fervent supporter of Hitler and took Deborah to have tea with the Führer during a trip to Germany. Jessica, meanwhile, supported the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War and eventually migrated to the US.

Deborah, who married Andrew Cavendish, the future 11th Duke of Devonshire, in 1941, was considered the quiet one. But it was in large part her dedication that turned Chatsworth—one of the grandest country houses in the country—into one of England’s 10 most visited sites, attracting over 750,000 people every year. Art is now a key part of Chatsworth’s activities. Recent exhibitions include Michael Craig-Martin, William Turnbull, and Anthony Caro.

When the couple took over Chatsworth in 1959, it was stricken by astronomical death duties, reportedly in the region of $20 million. As Architectural Digest reports, the estate’s renowned art collection provided much-needed liquidity during difficult times. Most notably the estate sold 70 Old Master drawings at Christie’s for $28.5 million in 1984.

The Devonshires’ art collection remains one of the most prestigious aristocratic collections in the country. It features paintings by the likes of Thomas Gainsborough, John Singer Sargent, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Lucian Freud, for whom Deborah once posed.




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