Dame Nellie Melba personal collection to go under the hammer

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 27th March, 2015

Collectors will have the chance to obtain a piece of operatic history when the personal collection of iconic Australian operatic diva Dame Nellie Melba is auctioned from 6pm Tuesday March 31 by Sotheby’s Australia at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Collins Street.

The first time the items have been released for sale, the collection contains fine art, luxurious furnishings, silverware, jewellery and objects of virtu amassed during her extensive travels at home and abroad – as part of Sotheby’s Australia’s Asian, Australian and European Art, Decorative Arts, Jewels and Objects of Vertu sale, which continues the next day from 6pm.

Born Helen “Nellie” Porter Mitchell in May 1861, Melba became one of the most famous operatic singers of the late Victorian era and early 20th century – and was the first Australian to achieve international recognition as a classical musician.

She trained and performed in Melbourne before moving to Europe to pursue a career as an operatic soprano and, by 1888, was the leading lyric soprano at Covent Garden in London.

Five years later she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and in 1909 returned to Australia for what she called her “sentimental tour”.
In Australia when World War I broke out, Melba raised over £100,000 for war charities, for which she was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire – and later elevated to Dame Grand Cross for her services to Australia.

Sotheby’s Australia managing director Geoffrey Smith said Melba was known for her flamboyance and impeccable sense of style, further enhanced by her international public standing and performances at major operatic events.

“She travelled extensively throughout the courts of Europe and her friends included celebrated artists such as Arthur Streeton, Hans Heysen and Elliot Gruthner, as well as actors and royalty whom she regularly entertained at her home Coombe Cottage in Coldstream,” he says. “She also followed women artists such as Margaret Preston, Thea Proctor, Nora Heysen and Ida Rentoul Outhwaite.”

The 150-strong collection for auction includes a travelling Cartier enamel clock and items, including a dinner service, inscribed with the Melba monogram.

In 1922, Melba gave a concert at His Majesty’s Theatre in Geelong to raise funds for the Kitchener Memorial Hospital.

As a token of appreciation on behalf of the city’s citizens, the mayor presented Melba with a gold paperweight depicting Australian flora and fauna and made Hammerton and Sons.

Two years earlier, Melba gave a concert to the world by wireless telephone from the marconi’s Company station at Chelsford. At the time, she was holding n 18-careat gold and platinum mesh evening bag by Cartier, which is included in the auction.

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