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Hilary Knight’s Original Portrait of Eloise Hits Auction

Hilary Knight. Painted for Kay Thompson 1956. Eloise. A tempera painting. From the collection of Hilary Knight.

A selection of illustrator and writer Hilary Knight’s artwork, including the original portrait of Eloise, will be auctioned at Bonhams New York on Dec. 5. It’s estimated to fetch between US$100,000 and US$150,000.

Depicting whimsical Eloise—one of the most influential children’s book characters—in black, white, and pink, the portrait was painted by Knight as a birthday gift for Eloise’s co-creator Kay Thomson in 1956, on the eve of her appearance on Person to Person on CBS, where Thomson showed the painting to the program’s guest host Jerry Lewis.

Shortly after, Thomson, a resident at The Plaza Hotel where her fictional character Eloise lived and roamed, loaned the portrait to the building to hang in the lobby.

The painting was stolen on the night of a Junior League Ball at the Plaza in November 1960. It was returned to Knight some years later after being found frameless in a dumpster.

Knight had already replaced the portrait with a new painting that still hangs in the lobby of The Plaza Hotel, and so he kept the original for roughly 50 years, according to Bonhams.

Knight, 92, who lives in Long Island, New York, couldn’t be reached for comment.

In 2017, in preparation for "Eloise at the Museum," a dedicated exhibition at the New York Historical Society, Knight and curator Jane Curley had the painting expertly flattened, remounted, and revived.

For the auction at Bonhams, Knight finished the restoration himself, returning the portrait as closely as possible to the state in which it hung at the Plaza several decades ago.

Included in the auction will be more than 50 other works by Hilary Knight, grouped as “The World of Hilary Knight.” A collection of nine Eloise books, including Eloise, Eloise in Paris, Eloise in Moscow, Eloise at Christmastime, The Ultimate Edition Eloise; and Eloise's Guide to Life, has a starting bid of US$1,000.

All nine books are signed by Knight.

Additionally, a 1956 pencil sketch of an imagined Yves Saint Laurent party dress for Eloise is estimated to sell for up to US$8,000.

The event will be part of Bonhams’ Fine Books and Manuscripts auction, which features over 300 lots.

© 2015 by Hilary Knight .

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