Valerie Eliot's collection was auctioned at her request to continue her charity's work encouraging young poets
A museum-worthy collection of British art amassed by the widow of TS Eliot has sold for more than £7m at auction, more than £2m above the pre-sale estimate.
The top sale at the auction of Valerie Eliot's collection at Christie's King Street branch in London, which totalled £7,094,950, was a pencil and water colour sketch of Helmingham Dell in Suffolk by John Constable, which went for £662,500, almost double its estimated value.
The Nobel prize-winning poet's widow funded her art and antiques collection with the royalties from Andrew Lloyd Webber's highly successful musical Cats, based on her husband's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats.
Valerie Eliot died in 2012, aged 86. Her treasures – described as one of the finest collections of British art to come to the market in generations – were auctioned at her request to continue her work of encouraging young poets and artists through her charity, Old Possum's Practical Trust.
She also collected works by Thomas Gainsborough, Stanley Spencer and LS Lowry, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, along with jewellery and furniture and portrait miniatures. The sale also included works by Matisse and Picasso.
Valerie Eliot (née Fletcher) was in her Yorkshire classroom when she heard a recording of Eliot's The Journey of the Magi, and declared that she would marry the poet. She went on to work as his secretary at the publisher Faber & Faber, and married him in 1957, when she was 30 and he was 68.
After his death in 1965, she devoted her life to preserving his archive and promoting his work, editing and publishing thousands of letters, and founding, funding and annually presenting the poetry prize established in his name. None of TS Eliot's books or literary manuscripts were included in the sale.