Hilary Knight’s ‘birthday gift’ portrait of Kay Thompson’s Eloise – sold by Bonhams New York for $80,000 (£62,675).

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The tempera on board portrait of Eloise was painted and inscribed in 1956 by Hilary Knight, who so memorably illustrated the books, and was a birthday gift for their author, Kay Thompson.

Shortly after an appearance on a TV show the picture was loaned to New York’s Plaza Hotel, where it was hung in the lobby in homage to the hotel’s most famous (imaginary) resident.

In 1960, however, on the night of a Junior League Ball, it disappeared – stolen by drunken debutantes in the view of Thompson – and despite massive media publicity it was only several years later that it was found abandoned in a dumpster, or garbage container.

The portrait was returned to Knight, but as a duplicate had by then replaced the original at the Plaza he rolled the original up and stored it away.

There it remained until, a bit the worse for wear, it was retrieved for an Eloise exhibition held in 2017 at the New York Historical Society. Restored by Knight, it was then consigned to the recent Bonhams auction as part of a special 64-lot section devoted to Knight’s illustrative work.