To coincide with the centenary of the first performance of Peter Pan and the recently premiered movie Finding Neverland, a revealing and unique collection of letters, photographs, manuscripts, books, costumes and other effects - from the Llewelyn-Davies family archive and the collection of Andrew Birkin - will be offered in a sale of English Literature and History at Sotheby's London on Thursday, December 16, 2004. The collection, which is being sold on behalf of Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity, documents the tragic and extraordinary real-life story behind J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, and is estimated to fetch in excess of £80,000.
Sometime early in 1897, J. M. Barrie was walking in Kensington Gardens and made the acquaintance of a delightful five-year-old boy named George and his four-year-old brother Jack, who were accompanied by their nurse, Mary Hodgson, and their baby brother, Peter. So began the friendship between Barrie and the Llewelyn-Davies boys - the 'lost boys' - which was to inspire the story of Peter Pan, arguably the best known of all characters in children's literature.
The collection comprises 19 lots and was formed by the screenwriter and director Andrew Birkin as part of his research for his trilogy of plays The Lost Boys and his definitive biography, J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys. Birkin tracked down the surviving brother, Nicholas (Nico) Llewelyn-Davies, and subsequently acquired from him a trunk stuffed with old family letters, photograph albums and the unpublished typescript of his brother Peter's 'Family Morgue' (a transcription of a large number of family papers). Birkin later acquired more papers, costumes, books and other effects from further surviving members of the family, as well as from antique shops
Birkin - who donated the present collection to the Great Ormond Street Hospital - felt touched by the legacy of J.M. Barrie's curse: "May God blast anyone who writes a biography about me". His son Anno, a promising song-writer, poet and musician, was killed, together with three other band members, in a car crash in Italy in September 2001, the night after completing the first full rehearsal of their first studio album. Like Michael Llewellyn-Davies at the time he was drowned in 1921, he was one month short of his twenty-first birthday.
One of the collection's most important lots is the annotated typescript of Act IV of Peter Pan (illustrated above), revised by Barrie for the highly successful first American production. This typescript relates to the first New York production of Peter Pan, which opened at the Empire Theater on November 6, 1905 with Maude Adams in the title role. It was a sensational success with the American public, with full houses on Broadway, a record run for the company, and extended tours throughout the country. The present typescript of Act IV, the scene in which Peter and the children capture the pirate ship, is all that is known to survive of Barrie's working typescript for this production. Virtually no other comparable manuscripts or typescripts for the original stage version of Peter Pan are known to remain in private hands. It is estimated to fetch £8,000-£12,000.
One of a group of four original official photographs of the first production of Peter Pan estimated to fetch £1,500-£2,000
Also to be offered for sale is the Llewelyn-Davies family archive. The archive contains not only autograph letters by each of the Llewelyn-Davies boys, George, Jack, Peter, Michael and Nicholas, but also a series of letters written by members of the Du Maurier family - chiefly George Du Maurier, Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies' father - as well as autograph letters from Mary Hodgson (the boys' nanny) and Henry James. It contains over three hundred letters, thirty telegrams and other associated items - upwards of 1,000 pages in all - and is estimated to fetch £25,000-£35,000.
In 1909 Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies - the boys' mother - was suffering a series of collapses, and she was soon diagnosed as suffering from cancer. The archive poignantly contains her draft autograph wills, including the early, four-page draft, in which she writes "I may die at any time but it's not likely to happen yet" and expresses warm affection for various members of her family and concern about the future of her beloved sons, ending:
"...I should like all my dear one's love letters to me to be burnt unread...& lie with me & Arthur in the Hampstead churchyard close to that other dear grave...Of one thing I am certain -- that JM Barrie (the best of friends in the whole world) will always be ready to advise..."
Shortly before her death she composed a second will, which is also present in the archive, although it was not actually found until several months after her death. Barrie's later mistranscription of the will, replacing the name of "Jenny" [i.e. Jenny Hodgson, the boys' nurse and nanny Mary's sister] with that of his own, "Jimmy", is also included in the archive.
At the outbreak of war in August 1914 both George and Peter joined up as officers in the Special Reserve of the 60th Rifles and within a short time they were at the front in France. Barrie and George maintained a frequent correspondence during the ensuing months and on March 11, 1915 Barrie wrote a letter to George informing him that his uncle Guy had been killed. It was the last letter to reach him alive. A few days later, in the early hours of March 15, George was killed in an advance on the Germans at St. Eloi. Inevitably the effect on Barrie, as Peter Davies wrote in his Morgue, was "dire". Barrie's last letter to George is the most tragic and poignant he ever wrote and is offered for sale alongside a series of correspondence - the only letters between the author and the five "lost boys" known to remain in private hands - which is estimated to fetch £10,000-£15,000.
This series also contains the only surviving letter by Barrie to Michael Llewelyn Davies (illustrated left), the major model for Peter Pan. When Michael went up to Eton in 1913, three years after the death of his mother Sylvia, he was extremely homesick: "he missed [his nanny] Mary Hodgson; he missed Uncle Jim [Barrie]; most of all, he missed his mother". Barrie tried to ease his miserable loneliness by writing to him every day (instead of once a week as he had done with George). To the eighteen-year-old Michael on March 29, 1918 he remarks on how lonely he is on bank holidays, although he rejoices in the thought that Michael and Nico are almost on the way home, and writes:
"...I got your dressing-table out [of Campden Hill] all right & have been trying various plans to make the rooms nice..."
Tragically three years later in May 1921, Michael and his friend, Rupert Buxton drowned whilst bathing in a mill-pond at Standford Pool, Oxford. Michael had never been able to swim and there was widespread speculation after his death, that in fact the two inseparable companions had made a suicide pact
The collection also includes The Llewelyn Davies photographic archive, which contains more than four hundred photographs, of which many are unpublished, and is estimated to fetch £15,000-£20,000. The great majority are vintage prints and include a large number taken by Barrie himself, such as the famous series of George Llewelyn-Davies as Peter Pan. A small number are by named photographers or studios including Frederick Hollyer, H.S. Mendelssohn and Lizzie Caswall Smith. Other celebrated images include some from the expedition to Black Lake in 1901 (the inspiration for The Boy Castaways, the precursor to Peter Pan) as well as many beautiful images of the Llewelyn-Davies boys with their mother Sylvia or their father Arthur.
Other highlights in the collection include a group of four original official photographs of the first production of Peter Pan (one of which is illustrated above). The photographs originally belonged to Nina Boucicault, who first played Peter Pan and are estimated to fetch £1,500-£2,000. These will be offered alongside the Peter Pan outfit worn by the actress Zena Dare (1887-1975), who played Peter Pan in the first provincial production of the play that opened at the Prince's Theatre, Manchester, on 24 December 1906, which is estimated at £2,000-£3,000. The collection also includes the programme (one of a group of three) for a special private performance of Peter Pan given to the bed-ridden Michael Llewelyn-Davies at his home in 1906 - recreated in the film Finding Neverland - which is estimated at £1,500-£2,000.
The collection will be on view at Sotheby's London from: Sunday, December 12 - Wednesday, December 15