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Anne Clifford 1917 - 1984
by Diana Scarisbrick
One of the pleasures of writing about jewellery is meeting my readers and that is how Anne Clifford and I became friends after she had been in touch with me about an article I had published in Country Life. We were introduced many years ago at a lunch at S.J. Phillips in Bond Street. An invitation to her Georgian mansion in Kent followed, and it was there that I first saw the collection now being dispersed. I loved the house, where works of art were displayed everywhere, some inherited but most bought after her marriage, for she and her husband, Derek were dedicated collectors. Derek was an artistic polymath who wrote poetry and novels as well as books on garden design, lacquer, and English watercolours, which were his particular interests. Anne shared all his enthusiasms: they never missed an antique fair, followed the auction sales, did the rounds of the dealers in the antique markets and continued to seek out objects on their travels at home and abroad. It was in this atmosphere that their two children, Gillian Yerburgh and Timothy - later to become famous as Director General of the National Galleries of Scotland - imbibed a life-long love of art.
Whereas they bought furniture, paintings, silver and porcelain to decorate the rooms of their home, the jewellery was personal to Anne who wore it beautifully. In this respect she had the advantage of an excellent figure, striking looks and good taste in dress. She knew exactly what suited her and if she could not find the right outfit for a particular occasion was quite capable of making one herself. Then with the addition of the well-chosen earrings, necklace and brooches exclusive to her, and to no other woman present, she never failed to make a great impression.
At first she was fascinated by the sobriety of cut steel and Berlin Iron jewellery. It was also cheap, and by 1971 she had such an important collection that since there was no other history in English she decided to publish it. The book, long out of print, is distinguished by personal touches such as the end papers which depict late eighteenth century men and women happily clustered round a jeweller's shop, contributed by her friend, the artist Edward Ardizzone. She learnt how to wear this collection to dramatic effect. Although Berlin iron is associated with mourning, and therefore usually worn with black clothes, Anne realised that the crisp and light openwork designs made an even greater impact when set off by coloured dress. As for her cut steel jewellery, like an eighteenth century woman she reserved it for candlelight, which revealed the soft glitter of the faceted beads. Eventually, as, like so many others, she was obliged to finance her collecting through her collection, the cut steel and all but one set of Berlin Iron was sold and the proceeds spent on what had became her real love, eighteenth century paste. This was much rarer than the Victorian jewellery so popular with other collectors such as Doris Langley Moore in the period after World War II. However, it appealed to Anne because it was designed to the same high standards as elegant diamond and coloured stone jewels of a time when, encouraged by women of taste such as Madame de Pompadour, the decorative arts reached a peak of perfection. Thus the paste earrings which suited her so well illustrate the fashionable top and drop and girandole (three drop) styles which were worn with matching bow knot brooches or Sévignés. These sets of wonderful deep green paste framed in bright red borders and tawny golden topazes tied with garnet ribbons demonstrate the importance of colour in 18th century jewellery. Whereas most pieces are French there are a few others originating elsewhere: bright golden chrysolites from Portugal and opaline paste from Uttoxeter in England, 1780-1800. Then there is her collection of aigrettes, some designed as Roman candles exploding upwards or others as asymmetrical bouquets of flowers and colourful ribbon and floral necklaces. All these, which seem to have come straight out of the design books of J.H. Pouget, Traiti des Pierres Pricieuses (1762 and 1764) evoke the courts of Louis XV and Louis XVI.
Malcolm Lewis, the authority on paste whom she met in the Portobello Market was related to the Nortons of S.J. Phillips, and as Derek admitted in his catalogue of her collection her best pieces came from that firm. Anne liked people as much as jewellery and so the Nortons became great friends as did many other people who shared her interest. Most of all she valued her conversations with Joan Evans, historian and benefactor of the Victoria & Albert Museum, who called her "my sable friend" as Anne had a passion for that glorious fur. An exception was the formidable invalid Anne Hull Grundy who dominated the antique jewellery market from her Hampshire cottage bedroom with whom she spoke on the telephone but never met... If they had, then even Mrs. Grundy who rarely had a good word to say about a rival collector, might have been disarmed by Anne's generosity of spirit and friendliness
As with everything else in the Clifford marriage, collecting Anne's jewellery was a shared experience. Together they recognised and disposed of their mistakes, and rejoiced in their successes. I like to think of them indulging in what she called evening "gloats" when, as Derek remembered, the two "would draw the curtains, get out the cases, spread the contents over a table handling them, savouring them, above all enjoying them." Chosen and worn so well by this attractive woman the jewels in the Clifford collection have a provenance of which any collector today might well be proud.
Diana Scarisbrick is an independent jewellery historian. Her exhibition "Dignity and Beauty: The Story of the Tiara" opens in Tokyo in January 2007, followed by "A Heart of Gold: Jewels of Sentiment" on 14 February 2007 in Paris.
After Anne Clifford's death her jewellery collection was for many years displayed in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Her husband catalogued the collection, Anne Clifford's Antique Jewellery, The Story of a Collection, Nottingham Court Press 1985, not in a formal academic manner, but as a personal story of her love of jewellery, but he always recognised that one day it would be dispersed and felt that she would have approved. A copy of this book will be given to each successful purchaser.
Post Lot Text
Cf. Derek Clifford 'Anne Clifford's Antique Jewellery The Story of a Collection' Nottingham Court Press, 1985, plate 12, also Christie's 'Antique Jewellery' 1999, lot 201 for a similar pair of earrings