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‘She was unique’ — Raine, Countess Spencer

A close family friend recalls the life and times of the politician and socialite — daughter of a celebrated author, stepmother to the Princess of Wales and a collector of fine art and objects

The only daughter of Alexander McCorquodale and the romantic novelist Dame Barbara Cartland, Raine, Countess Spencer (1929-2016) enjoyed a position at the centre of London society for more than 60 years.

Soon after being named Deb of the Year in 1947, Raine McCorquodale married Gerald Legge, later Viscount Lewisham and The 9th Earl of Dartmouth, with whom she had four children. In 1954, at the age of 24, she became the youngest member ever to be elected to Westminster City Council and subsequently played an instrumental role in the saving of historic buildings, including the grand facade of the Tate Gallery.

Claude Joseph Vernet (Avignon 1714-1789, A Mediterranean sea-port with fishermen unloading cargo. Oil on canvas, 39⅛ x 53½ in (99 x 135.8 cm). Estimate £300,000-500,000. This lot is offered in Old Masters Evening Sale on 6 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

Claude Joseph Vernet (Avignon 1714-1789, A Mediterranean sea-port with fishermen unloading cargo. Oil on canvas, 39⅛ x 53½ in (99 x 135.8 cm). Estimate: £300,000-500,000. This lot is offered in Old Masters Evening Sale on 6 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

Following her divorce from the Earl of Dartmouth, Raine married John Spencer, 8th Earl Spencer, in 1976, and became stepmother to his children, including Diana, Princess of Wales. After Lord Spencer’s death in 1992, Lady Spencer married Comte Jean-François Pineton de Chambrun. The couple parted in 1995.

Lady Spencer, as she was known, had an appreciation of the fine and decorative arts, with 18th-century France being of special interest. She assembled a collection of paintings by some of the greatest artists of that period, including Boucher, Fragonard and Vernet.

Louis-Léopold Boilly (La Bassée, near Lille 1761-1845 Paris), LAmusement de la campagne. Oil on paper laid down on panel, 12 x 8¼ in (30.3 x 21 cm). Estimate £40,000-60,000. This lot is offered in The Collection of Raine, Countess Spencer  on 13 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

Louis-Léopold Boilly (La Bassée, near Lille 1761-1845 Paris), L'Amusement de la campagne. Oil on paper laid down on panel, 12 x 8¼ in (30.3 x 21 cm). Estimate: £40,000-60,000. This lot is offered in The Collection of Raine, Countess Spencer on 13 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

Highlights from Lady Spencer’s collection of French Old Master paintings will be offered in the Old Masters Evening Sale on 6 July. Leading this group are a scene by Claude Joseph Vernet of A Mediterranean sea-port with fishermen unloading cargo and Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s bozzetto, The goddess Aurora triumphs over night, announcing Apollo in his chariot, while Morpheus sleeps.

Lady Spencer also collected fine furniture on which she displayed ormolu clocks, objets d’art and Chinese works of art at her London house, which included a glamorous Art Deco dining room. Highlights from this part of the auction include a pair of late-18th century ormolu-mounted agate vases, probably Scandinavian or Russian (estimate: £20,000-40,000); a Louis XVI commode, attributed to Pierre-Antoine Foullet, c. 1770-75 (below), and a late Louis XVI ormolu mantel clock, c. 1795-1800 (estimate: £25,000-40,000).

A Louis XVI ormolu-mounted tulipwood, amaranth and fruitwood marquetry commode. Attributed to Pierre-Antoine Foullet, circa 1770-75. 34¼ in (87 cm) high; 59 in (150 cm) wide; 24½ in (62 cm) deep. Estimate £60,000-90,000. This lot is offered in The Collection of Raine, Countess Spencer  on 13 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

A Louis XVI ormolu-mounted tulipwood, amaranth and fruitwood marquetry commode. Attributed to Pierre-Antoine Foullet, circa 1770-75. 34¼ in (87 cm) high; 59 in (150 cm) wide; 24½ in (62 cm) deep. Estimate: £60,000-90,000. This lot is offered in The Collection of Raine, Countess Spencer on 13 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

‘Raine was unique. It’s a cliché but we shall not see her like again,’ says Michael Cole, a close family friend. ‘She learned a great deal from her mother. Barbara Cartland was a frontline journalist and it was only when she’d been a journalist for a long time that she started to write romantic novels.’

A burgundy alligator Princess Diana handbag. By Lana Marks, 1995. 9 x 9½ in (22 x 24 cm). Estimate £4,000-6,000. This lot is offered in The Collection of Raine, Countess Spencer  on 13 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

A burgundy alligator 'Princess Diana' handbag. By Lana Marks, 1995. 9 x 9½ in (22 x 24 cm). Estimate: £4,000-6,000. This lot is offered in The Collection of Raine, Countess Spencer on 13 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

One of Barbara Cartland’s many fans was Diana, Princess of Wales. ‘As a child, [Barbara Cartland’s] books were her constant companions,’ explains Cole. ‘Diana loved them and they gave her great comfort at a time of her life when she wasn’t very happy.’

An 18 carat gold, ruby and diamond parure by Van Cleef & Arpels. Estimate £100,000-150,000. This lot is offered in The Collection of Raine, Countess Spencer on 13 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street
An 18 carat gold, ruby and diamond parure by Van Cleef & Arpels. Estimate: £100,000-150,000. This lot is offered in The Collection of Raine, Countess Spencer on 13 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street
Raine, Countess Spencer, wearing the gold, ruby and diamond parure by Van Cleef & Arpels
Raine, Countess Spencer, wearing the gold, ruby and diamond parure by Van Cleef & Arpels

Lady Spencer was always stylish and, says Cole, ‘it was her luck that after World War II Christian Dior brought in the new look in Paris, and that suited her. If there ever was a Mayfair lady, it was Raine.

Four fox fur-trimmed cashmere wraps (two shown). By Zwirn, two by Denis Basso and one unlabelled. Estimate £800-1,200. A dinner dress. Probably by Pierre Balmain, unlabelled. Estimate £1,000-1,500. These lots are offered in The Collection of Raine, Countess Spencer  on 13 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

Four fox fur-trimmed cashmere wraps (two shown). By Zwirn, two by Denis Basso and one unlabelled. Estimate: £800-1,200. A dinner dress. Probably by Pierre Balmain, unlabelled. Estimate: £1,000-1,500. These lots are offered in The Collection of Raine, Countess Spencer on 13 July 2017 at Christie’s in London, King Street

‘If you look at the lots, they reflect absolutely perfectly her taste — very good quality, prize pieces, all highly personal,’ Cole continues. ‘She wasn’t modish; she didn't change with the seasons. She bought the things that she enjoyed and she had immaculately good taste.’