Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years
Washington now has the opportunity to celebrate the legacy of one of its favorite First Ladies. Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years-Selections from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, the blockbuster exhibition seen previously in New York and Boston, is now showing at the Corcoran Gallery of Art . One of the most talked-about exhibitions of the year, Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years-Selections from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum marks the 40th anniversary of Mrs. Kennedy's emergence as America's First Lady, and explores her enduring global influence on style. This unprecedented exhibition is on view at the Corcoran from April 6 through September 30, 2002.
Some 80 original costumes and accessories from the collection of the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston are on view, featuring clothing worn by Jacqueline Kennedy on the campaign trail, during the inaugural festivities, at the White House itself, and on state visits around the world.
Highlights include the fawn coat and celebrated pillbox hat worn for the inaugural ceremonies on the steps of the Capitol; the red dress worn for the televised tour of the White House; and a large group of formal evening clothes worn at the White House for state dinners, political entertaining, and cultural events.
A special highlight of the exhibition is a section devoted to Mrs. Kennedy's commitment to preserving the beauty and history of Washington, DC. Through photo murals and handwritten letters not previously seen in New York or Boston, the exhibition at the Corcoran documents Mrs. Kennedy's efforts to protect the city's historic buildings and to promote the cultural life of the nation's capital.
Jacqueline Kennedy came to the White House determined to transform it into a theater of culture and taste. She discovered the chief executive's mansion languishing in a state of aesthetic neglect and largely bereft of historically appropriate furnishings. As first lady she lost no time in appointing the first White House curator and in forming the Fine Arts Committee for the White House and the Special Committee for White House Paintings, for which she enlisted prominent collectors and philanthropists as well as leading museum directors and curators. Together, they set to work to unearth period furnishings, paintings, and objects. "Everything in the White House must have a reason for being there," Mrs. Kennedy told LIFE's Hugh Sidey. "It would be sacrilege merely to redecorate it-a word I hate. It must be restored, and that has nothing to do with decoration. That is a question of scholarship."
Jacqueline Kennedy's personal style bridged the divide between 1950s America and the promise of her husband's New Frontier. Mrs. Kennedy understood the power of clothing and image and used that power to reflect the internationalism and vigor of the Kennedy administration. She proved such an effective ambassador when she accompanied the president to Europe and Latin America in 1961 that she traveled without him on a goodwill tour to India and Pakistan the following year.
During her all-too-brief tenure in the White House, Jacqueline Kennedy epitomized how much a modern president's wife can achieve. She revitalized the White House and encouraged appreciation of America's cultural heritage both at home and abroad. She remains one of the most admired first ladies in American history.
At the same time as Jacqueline Kennedy physically reinvented the White House as a museum of presidential history, she also departed from recent patterns of presidential entertaining. State dinners were conceived with imagination and executed with bravura style. The first lady's fashions, food, flowers, music-even topics of conversation-were carefully orchestrated to project and reinforce the Kennedy image of vital intelligence, high culture, and youthful sophistication.
Jacqueline Kennedy's choice of clothing for an event was as deliberate as every other element of an evening. At important state dinners she appeared a dashing modern metaphor for the Kennedy administration. For the opening of the National Gallery showing of the Mona Lisa she wore an Empire gown that reinforced her image as a romantic historicist. As Richard Martin, the late curator of the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute, observed, these instinctive gestures revealed that "her style was not vanity but a way of living, not simply adorning herself but expressing her vision of beauty in the world."