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by Jilly Cooper

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No picture ever came more beautiful than Raphael's Pandora. Discovered by a dashing young lieutenant, Raymond Kelvedon in a Normandy Chateau in 1944, she had cast her spell over his family - all artists and dealers - for fifty years. Hanging in a turret of their lovely Cotswold house, Pandora witnessed Raymond's tempestuous wife Galena both


No picture ever came more beautiful than Raphael's Pandora. Discovered by a dashing young lieutenant, Raymond Kelvedon in a Normandy Chateau in 1944, she had cast her spell over his family - all artists and dealers - for fifty years. Hanging in a turret of their lovely Cotswold house, Pandora witnessed Raymond's tempestuous wife Galena both entertaining a string of lovers, and giving birth to her four children: Jupiter, Alizarin, Jonathan and superbrat Sienna. Then an exquisite stranger rolls up, claiming to be a long-lost daughter of the family, setting the three Belvedon brothers at each other's throats. Accompanying her is her fatally glamorous boyfriend, whose very different agenda includes an unhealthy interest in the Raphael.

During a fireworks party, the painting is stolen. The hunt to retrieve it takes the reader on a thrilling journey to Vienna, Geneva, Paris, New York and London. After a nail-biting court case and a record-smashing Old Masters sale at Sotheby's, passionate love triumphs and Pandora is restored to her rightful home.

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"One reads her for her joie de vivre, her maudlin romanticism, her love of arty references and her razor sharp sense of humour. Oh, and the sex"

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Raymond succeeded beyond everyone's wildest dreams. After the excitement of liberating Europe and a brief stint at Cambridge, he found equal thrills in transforming the respectable but slightly sleepy family gallery, the Belvedon in Cork Street, into one of the most successful in London.

To begin with, he worked all hours to blot out the horror of Viridian's death, but gradually he began to enjoy himself, developing a distinctly buccaneering attitude to art. Draconian export laws he felt deserved to be broken. Nor should one question too closely where a beautiful picture came from. Many a masterpiece was soon being smuggled abroad in the false bottom of his briefcase or brought home in the hold of the boat in which he took holidays each summer. Winter saw him with a permanent ski tan acquired while depositing illegal currency in the gallery's Swiss bank account.

Back in London, collectors fainted when given the occasional peep at the Old Masters stored in the Belvedon vaults. Raymond knew where to find a treasure and where to place it. Each time he was invited to stay in some great house, he left a less faded square on the damask wallpaper, having gently convinced his hostess that this was the optimum time to part with the Velásquez.

As the gallery's success increased, so did Raymond's eligibility. Invitations poured in for dances, but as Raymond circled the ballrooms of the Hyde Park Hotel and Claridge's, fluttering the hearts of the debs and their mothers, he made sure he got his name in the address book of the fathers: aristocrats who might want to flog a Gainsborough to pay for the season, nouveau riche businessmen who needed guidance on adorning the walls of their big new houses.

Raymond was such a charming chap, so unsnooty, he could be relied on to act as an advisor and to sell you something really good when it came along - even if sadly he showed no signs of marrying your daughter.

Only in the same area had Raymond disappointed his parents. At nearly thirty-seven, he had still failed to marry and produce an heir. Raymond's mother had a weak chest and his father, who was champing to retire permanently to the house in Provence, was threatening to hand Foxes Court, the main family home, over to Raymond's elder sister and her husband, who was thinking of leaving the diplomatic service, if Raymond didn't get a move on. But Raymond was a romantic. He could no more marry a woman he didn't love than exhibit an artist whose work he didn't admire.

Raymond, who had a flair for anticipating changes in taste, had specialized not only in Old Masters and Pre-Raphaelites, which were beginning to rise in value, but also living artists. Two of the latter were a married couple in their thirties: Colin Casey Andrews and Joan Bideford. Casey Andrews's huge part-abstract landscapes of the Cornish coast were already selling well and in early May 1961, Joan had just completed such a successful debut show at the Belvedon that she had felt justified in throwing a party to celebrate.

She chose a beautiful Saturday evening - Viridian's birthday, in fact - Viridian the virile, who would have produced half a dozen heirs by now, had he not been blown to bits leading his men at Monte Cassino without even a grave on which to put flowers.

Having taken down Joan Bideford's exhibition on the Friday before her party, Raymond and Eddie, his packer, had spent hours hanging the paintings of Raymond's latest discovery, a Frenchman called Etienne de Montigny, for the private view on Monday. Was it deliberately to eradicate the memory of Viridian's death that, at two o'clock in the morning, a sleepless Raymond had wandered down from the flat above the gallery and, deciding the pictures looked irredeemably garish and vulgar, had summoned Eddie the packer from the warmth of his girlfriend's bed in Battersea to repaint the stark white walls behind them?

Against a background of two coats of Prussian blue emulsion, the pictures looked sensational, like lit-up liners in a night-dark sea. Nor had Eddie minded labouring all night and through Saturday. At seven shillings an hour, he could take his girlfriend out on the toot this evening, and sleep it off tomorrow.

And Raymond was such a lovely bloke to work for, even if he did have mad notions and was picky about pictures being hung a millimetre too far to the left. He was so appreciative. He never talked down, and the tales he'd told Eddie about the Gods and Goddesses as they rehung the paintings would make your hair curl.

'That nymph being poked by that bull, Eddie, is actually the wife of the French Minister of Agriculture.'

Having showered upstairs and emerged beautiful as the evening star in his dinner jacket, Raymond had been distracted by a small oil of a languid youth admiring his white naked reflection in a pond.

'Exquisite,' he murmured.

'He'll get sunburn if he don't put on his shirt, and you're going to be late for that party,' chided Eddie, taking a pale pink rose from the vase on the reception desk and slotting it into Raymond's buttonhole. 'I'll lock up. Don't let Joan and Casey Andrews bully you. Invitation said bring a bottle.'

'Oh hell.'

'Here, take the Jack Daniel's that Yank brought you.'

'Thanks, Eddie.' Raymond gazed round happily. 'That blue's made all the difference. I can't thank you enough. See you Monday.'

As he emerged from the white-fronted eighteenth-century terrace house, with the dark blue Belvedon Gallery sign swaying in the warm breeze, the prostitutes who plied their trade along Cork Street wolf-whistled.

'Who's the lovely toff?' shouted a handsome blonde.

A pretty brunette started singing a pop song called 'Wooden Heart', imploring Raymond not to break hers.

Raymond laughed and danced a few steps with her before coiling his long length into his bottle-green E-Type. The girls were his friends, whom he often sketched and invited into the gallery on cold nights for a glass of brandy. Last Christmas they had clubbed together and given him a bottle of Armagnac.

As he drove towards Hampstead, he found the sudden heatwave had brought out good-looking couples, laughing outside pubs or wandering hand in hand along pavements strewn with pink and white blossom. Knowing she'd be desolate remembering Viridian, he'd rung his mother earlier.
'You're such a dear, Raymond,' her voice had trembled, 'you'd make such a wonderful husband.'
In the spring, the not-so-young man's fancy, reflected Raymond heavily, turns to thoughts of love.

He felt as though he'd been imprisoned in the gallery for so long he'd missed the spring. The creamy-white hawthorns were turning brown in the parks, the chestnut candles already over. But as he passed houses garlanded in cobalt-violet wisteria and breathed in a heady scent of rainsoaked lilac, it was impossible not to feel optimistic. He had sold a Reynolds to the National Gallery and a fine Zoffany to a Canadian collector, and Joan Bideford's nudes had gone so well that the big bumpy freckled nose of her far more famous husband was thoroughly out of joint.

Casey, as he was usually known, and Joan were such a repulsive couple: greedy, egotistical, sexually predatory, insanely jealous of one another and other artists, that, as an escape route, Raymond had arranged to dine at nine o'clock back in Mayfair with a rich collector and some of his friends - hence the dinner jacket. Later he would take them in wine-jolly strip-club mood back to the gallery for large drinks and a preview of Etienne de Montigny's erotic pictures.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Jilly Cooper is a journalist, writer and media superstar.The author of many number one bestselling novels, including Riders, Rivals, Polo, The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous, Appassionata, Score! and Pandora, she lives in Gloucestershire with her husband, Leo, five cats and her greyhound dog. She was appointed OBE in the 2004 Queen's Birthday Honours List for her contribution to literature.

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Pandora 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Love Jilly Cooper. She writes a great old romping, rollicking story with lots of gorgeous people, lots of ridiculous intrigue, some marvelous, well developed and fun characters. Lots of booze, sex and well written too. It's just great if you want an escape into the slightly unbelievable! For an even better Jilly romp, read Riders next!!