Tucked away in a sale of Important Design at Wright auction house in Chicago this month, among significant pieces of furniture by Isamu Noguchi, Ron Arad, and other modern and contemporary designers, was a group of eight drawings by Jacqueline Kennedy. Created for a July 4, 1961, article about the then-new first lady in Look magazine—a cover story that delved into “What you don’t know about Jacqueline Kennedy, the new American beauty”—Jackie’s naïve illustrations candidly capture her husband, John F. Kennedy, in the act of being or becoming president.
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Drawn in ink on 8 x 10-inch card stock, the lighthearted images show JFK fresh from the shower and still dipping wet while talking to reporters; resting in Connecticut Governor Abe Ribicoff’s bed; speaking in a casino to a crowd more interested in gambling at the Young Democrats Las Vegas Club; simultaneously shaking hands and listening to a speech while trying to eat a banquet meal; draped in a fallen Idaho flag; getting the strong arm from a couple of Texas rangers; posing for pictures with babies while trying to catch a plane; and burdened with gifts from a Latin American visit.
Given that these drawings were made in the early days of Camelot, one would think that they would find a tremendous interest from buyers, but that was not the case. Consigned by the family of the former president of Cowles Communication—Jackie had either given the illustrations to him or simply abandoned them—only one of the drawings sold at auction, JFK in Governor Ribicoff’s bed, for $3,125. The rest were bought after the sale for roughly $1,875 each, far below the $3,000-$5,000 estimates.
Why wouldn’t the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, a Kennedy family member, or a fanatic fan want these unique and compelling works? The Sotheby’s sale of odds-and-ends from Jacqueline Onassis’ estate in 1996 had achieved phenomenal results. Speculation on the lack of interest and low prices this time around is that there was no established market prices for artwork by Jackie; but anyone familiar with her 1974 book One Special Summer, which she and her sister Lee Bouvier had collaborated on during a 1951 trip to Europe, would immediately recognize her fanciful style of illustration.
It’s ironic that in a time of great interest in her eccentric aunt and cousin, Big and Little Edie Beale of Grey Gardens’ fame, that Jackie’s power of persuasion has lost its luster. Maybe it’s because we have a new Camelot couple in the White House or, sadly, because if you don’t already have a record of sales of your art at auction, you don’t really exist, no matter what the name of the artist or provenance of the collector might be.