Jackie Kennedy's vacation memories on the auction block

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Monday, June 17, 2024

Jackie Kennedy's vacation memories on the auction block
In India, crowds gathered to see Kennedy in Jaipur, New Delhi and Fatehpur Sikri. © Christie's Images Ltd 2019.

by Tariro Mzezewa

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE ).- When Jacqueline Kennedy and her younger sister, Lee Radziwill, began a tour of India and Pakistan in March 1962, the first lady was described in Life magazine as “arguably the most famous woman in the world.”

In India, crowds gathered to see Kennedy in Jaipur, New Delhi and Fatehpur Sikri. In Pakistan, she was welcomed by people lining the streets of Lahore, Karachi and the Khyber Pass.

The sisters spent two weeks in the countries and were photographed riding camels and elephants, on a boat ride along the Ganges, at a horse and cattle show and at black-tie dinners with politicians, diplomats and other dignitaries.

Beginning Friday, Radziwill’s personal photo albums of the trip will be on display at Christie’s New York, a week ahead of an auction of jewelry, fine art, books, decorative arts and other memorabilia (including the albums) from her home in New York City. Radziwill died of natural causes in her home Feb. 16. She was 85.

Radziwill became a princess when she married a Polish émigré nobleman, Prince Stanislas Radziwill in 1959.

“It’s interesting to see how Princess Radziwill’s way of life — the way in which she lived, the interiors of the apartments — reflected her travels,” said Jonathan Rendell, a deputy chairman at Christie’s who is working on the auction.

Despite having a complicated relationship, the sisters often traveled together; they even wrote a book about their first trip to Europe. The fact that the first lady brought her sister on the trip to India and Pakistan signaled that they were on good terms.

“There was no need for Mrs. Kennedy to take her sister, but she wanted to,” Rendell said. “You can see that they’re enjoying being in each other’s company.”

India and Pakistan had been divided for 15 years when the women arrived. The Sino Indian War would begin later that year.

“The moment of the sisters going there is very pivotal — there’s a slow moving time bomb between the struggle of Kashmir, what’s happening with India and China, and Pakistan and Afghanistan,” said Manan Ahmed, a historian at Columbia University.

In India
On March 12, after taking a chartered Air India flight from Rome, the sisters arrived to a red carpet rolled out on the runway at Palam Airport in New Delhi. They were accompanied by John Kenneth Galbraith, the U.S. ambassador to India, and his wife, Kitty. The sisters were greeted by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his daughter, Indira Gandhi.

In a blue album with a golden inscription — “Visit of Mrs. John F. Kennedy to India (March 1962)” — are color and monochrome photos of Kennedy alone in front of the Taj Mahal in a green dress and white gloves and of both sisters at a black-tie dinner attended by Braj Kumar Nehru, the Indian ambassador to the United States, along with Nehru and his daughter. The album has 89 photographs.

In the 1960s, Rendell said, first ladies did not typically play roles in American relations elsewhere in the world. Radziwill’s photographs, however, show Kennedy and her sister with Prime Minister Nehru and others in semiofficial situations. “This type of diplomacy has almost disappeared,” he said. “I think it’s a pity because they projected a certain version of American culture.”

Onward to Pakistan
After eight days in India, Kennedy and Radziwill made their way to Pakistan, where they were welcomed by crowds with flowers and gifts.

Clint Hill, a Secret Service agent on the trip, later told Radio Free Europe that a “whole damn bouquet” of flowers would occasionally be flung at Kennedy as she was driven through the streets. “I’d have to rise out of my seat to fend it off so it didn’t knock her in the head,” he said.

A green album inscribed “Visit to Pakistan, March 21-26, 1962” shows the women with President Mohammad Ayub Khan.

The women also met with a camel driver, Bashir Ahmad, and his family at the president’s residence in Karachi. They rode one of his camels through the grounds.

“These photographs are a little slice of Americana that has gone completely,” Rendell said. “They look so happy, and you know what’s going to happen — and you know you can’t prevent it.”

© 2019 The New York Times Company

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