Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When Jackie Met Andre: Jacqueline Kennedy's Gift Book to Andre Malraux

André Malraux (foreground, left) with Jacqueline Kennedy
and JFK, state dinner at the White House, May 11, 1962.

The personal gift of Jacqueline and President Kennedy to French Minister of Culture André Malraux, in celebration of his visit to Washington, D.C. in May of 1962, has surfaced.

It is a book. Not just any book but a perfect copy of the great British caricaturist George Cruikshank's Remembrancer of a Tour on the Continent, a series of eight hand-colored aquatint engravings gently satirizing European travel.

London: Published by H. Humphrey, June 30, 1821.

"[Jacqueline Kennedy] had a degree in French literature and was captivated by the fiction of André Malraux, author of La Condition Humaine (Man's Fate), which won the Prix Goncourt literary prize in in 1933 and elevated Malraux to global attention. He was one of the striking figures and truly original minds of the era, and Jackie was powerfully drawn to his ideas about culture, humanity, and social justice.

"When plans for an official presidential trip to Paris in 1961 were under way, Jackie expressed her hope to meet the flamboyant writer and social critic, who was now France's Minister of Culture...

La Diligence (plate four).

"On May 31, 1961, the Kennedys arrived in the French capital to find cheerful mobs of well-wishers...The following day, Malraux was Jackie's guide for a tour of Paris's cultural highlights...It was no secret that Jackie was captivated by him. Her social secretary...observed that Mrs. Kennedy held Malraux in such high esteem that she developed a palpable 'intellectual crush' on the charming French minister" (Davis, Margaret Leslie. Mona Lisa in Camelot. Da Capo Press, 2008).

"Comparing Notes; or Venus Dei Medici Amongst Others !!!"
(Plate 8).

Malraux was enchanted by Jackie. After she and JFK and returned to the United States, official invitations to visit Washington were extended to Malraux but it was only after Jackie personally interceded that he accepted. The official state dinner with André was held on May 11, 1962.

It is on the very next day, May 12, 1962, that Jacqueline Kennedy presented this suite of hand-colored engravings to Malraux. The title, delightfully appropriate, refers to the Kennedys' visit the prior year. The satiric views within, five of which occur in France, could not have produced anything less than a smile from Malraux; Cruikshank's take on the human condition, a grotesque, tragi-comic and empathic vision of humanity must surely have struck a chord. Laughter is a manifestation of the spirit in revolt against fate, and, though transient, an escape from the bondage of suffering and the pain of existence. This is Malraux territory. Mrs. Kennedy thought about this gift carefully, her choice pitch-perfect; it has her touch, if not her fingerprint. And. quite deliberately, she chose a rare book. Well- and deeply-thought out rare books have long been, and continue to be, treasured gifts.

The President and First Lady's signatures have been unofficially confirmed as genuine by the Kennedy Library's research archivist, Steven Plotkin. By his signature - well nigh illegible - it appears that JFK was having a very bad day. "No, a usual one," Mr. Plotkin reported during a phone interview. It may come as a shock to learn that JFK's signature was, as Mr. Plotkin reported, "protean;" it constantly changed, and the archivist related that, once, JFK was asked by a small group of school children for his signature. The autograph was different for each of the six kids - all written on the same day.

The President and First Lady's autographs,
dated May 12, 1962, to inside cover of portfolio.
Note below, in French, from a former owner.

While there is no official record in the JFK Library of this gift, the Library's research staff suspects this was a private presentation from the First Lady and President and, hence, would not have been recorded by her secretary, Letitia Baldrige. Mrs. Kennedy's personal papers, on deposit at the Library but not yet cataloged, likely contain a reference to it.

Only one copy of this color-plate book has come to auction within the last thirty-five years.


CRUIKSHANK, George. Remembrancer of a Tour on the Continent, In Eight Coloured Prints, Designed after Nature by an Amateur, and Engraved by G. Cruikshank. London: Published by H. Humphrey, June 30, 1821.

First issue, the signed and dated (May 12, 1962) gift of President John F. Kennedy and the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to French Minister of Culture, André Malraux. Oblong folio (11 x 15 1/2 in; 284 x 393 mm). Eight hand-colored aquatints with captions.

Original brown wrappers with printed title on pink label. Housed within a green cloth portfolio with gilt title.

The Plates:

1. La Douane. The Searcher's Office.
2. Le Traiteur Chez Véry. Madame Véry's Coffee House, Paris.
3. Quartière con Mobili; or Hints on Taking Lodgings.
4. La Diligence.
5. Mer de Glace. Sea of Ice (dated as others; Cohn's copy has undated plate).
6. Visit to Vesuvius. Cineri Doloso.
7. Forum Boarium; or Mr. Bull in the Beast Market at Rome.
8. Comparing Notes; or Venus Dei Medici Amongst Others!!!

Cohn 1230 (as Inconveniences of a Tour of the Continent).

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