The Eyes

The Eyes

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Kennedys | Art in Camelot

In January 1961, the new residents of the White House were young, sophisticated, and attractive. The Kennedys abolished several old social conventions and focused on bringing the arts to Washington and the White House. Soon after their arrival, Jacqueline Kennedy began a complete restoration of the White House that captivated the American people, culminating in a 1962 televised tour led by the first lady with over 80 million viewers. In conjunction with the National Park Service, the president and first lady created the White House Historical Association to forever preserve and record its history and the persons and events associated with it. 

It was discovered during the research that took place for the renovation that eight paintings by Paul C├ęzanne had been bequeathed to The White House. When Mrs. Kennedy found that those paintings were hanging in the National Gallery of Art, she successfully wrestled them from the Gallery with much disapproval from its then director. She had them installed in the newly renovated Green Room.

John F. Kennedy (1963)
Elaine de Kooning
Smithsonian, National Portrait Gallery
Chronicled in a November 2008 Vanity Fair article and a book, Mona Lisa in Camelot: How Jacqueline Kennedy and Da Vinci's Masterpiece Charmed and Captivated a Nation, the first lady masterminded America's first blockbuster art show with the exhibition of Mona Lisa in New York and Washington. For several weeks, nearly two million visitors stood in long lines to catch a glimpse of Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art. 

Five days prior to the presidential couple’s fateful trip to Dallas in November 1963, descriptions of the presidential suite at Fort Worth's Hotel Texas were released to the public. Unhappy with the couple’s accommodations, a Fort Worth art critic proposed installing art in the presidential "suite." Drawing on local private and public art collections, each room of the suite was outfitted with works of art that befitted the tastes and interests of the president and first lady. It included works by Thomas Eakins, Marsden Hartley, Franz Kline, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, among others. But, they arrived so late that evening they didn't notice the significant artwork until the morning. The Kennedys were awestruck when they realized this extraordinary exhibition and called the organizers to thank them. 

The president was assassinated later that day. Dallas Museum of Art will bring together 14 of the 16 works displayed in the presidential suite in an exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination later this year. 

I am certain that after the dust of centuries 
has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered  not for victories or defeats in 
battle or in politics, but for our contribution 
to the human spirit.      President John F. Kennedy

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