The death of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ younger sister, Lee Bouvier Radziwill in February of this year was mourned as the ‘end of an era,’- for it was Lee, who was not only a witness to history during those three remarkable years of the Kennedy presidency, but one of its most intimate participants in the drama and glamorous pageantry of Camelot itself.
Items from the estate of Lee Bouvier Radziwill, who died in February 2019 will be sold at auction on October 18. Contents of the collection offer a fascinating glimpse into her life as a world famous socialite, princess, style icon and sister to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Now, a trove of Radziwill’s cherished mementos from the bygone era will be offered for sale at Christie’s auction house in New York City on October 18. The personal contents of Lee’s estate raise the curtain on her notoriously complex relationship with her sister – a relationship that was marred by a lifetime of jealousy and competition, and irreparably destroyed by Lee’s alleged affair with President Kennedy.
Lee spent her entire life feeling eclipsed by her older sister’s magnetic star-power, but items from her estate offer a glimpse into her own storied life as icon, influencer, and muse. Among her famous friends and admirers were the Rolling Stones, Andy Warhol, the Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev, with whom it was rumored Lee had become pregnant, and Truman Capote who tried valiantly but ultimately unsuccessfully, to turn Lee into an actress.
Her keen eye for beauty in fashion, interior design, art, literature and furniture is demonstrated in the wealth of art pieces, antiques and objets d’art up for auction. Indeed it was Lee, often working as a handmaiden for her sister in the White House, who introduced her sister to the many artists, designers and trends that we have come to automatically associate with Jackie. Even in death, the two sisters who so desperately wanted to be autonomous can’t help but be eerily similar. With so many of Lee’s beautiful things for sale, we’re reminded of Jackie’s instructions to her children John Jr. and Caroline, as she lay dying: ‘sell everything, you’ll make a lot of money.’
Lee Radziwill poses with the writer Truman Capote at his Black and White masked ball at The Plaza in 1966 where she was the guest of honor. Radziwill was a muse to many artists throughout her lifetime: Andy Warhol, photographer Peter Beard, dancer Rudolf Nureyev, designer Giorgio Armani, interior decorator Renzo Mongiardino and most famously she was one of Truman Capote’s celebrated ‘swans’ – the moniker he gave to his gaggle of supremely beautiful socialites
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (right) and her sister Lee Radziwill (left) had a notoriously complicated relationship what was marred by sibling rivalry, jealousy and competition. In a particularly unguarded moment, Radziwill told Vanity Fair in 2016: ‘ We’ll always be sisters, but we were friends once, too’
Lee Radziwill (right) takes a back seat to her sister, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy who is standing next to President Mohammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan. This is one of many personal photos up for sale through the Christie’s auction of Lee Radziwill’s estate
Both sisters were heralded as ‘Debutante of the Year’ in their respective classes by the influential gossip columnist and social arbiter, Cholly Knickerbocker who said that Jackie (standing) was a ‘regal debutante’ with ‘classic features and the daintiness of Dresden porcelain’
The beguiling Bouvier sisters captured the American imagination from the moment they made their formal entree into New York’s moneyed aristocracy. Both girls were heralded as ‘Debutante of the Year’ in their respective classes by the influential gossip columnist and social arbiter, Cholly Knickerbocker who said that Jackie was a ‘regal debutante’ with ‘classic features and the daintiness of Dresden porcelain.’ Though often thought of as living in her famous sister’s shadow, Caroline ‘Lee’ Bouvier, was very much her own person.
Jackie and Lee were born to John ‘Black Jack’ Bouvier, a gambling and philandering alcoholic who made a fortune as a stockbroker on Wall Street but died in relative poverty. Their mother, Janet Lee Norton was a calculating and ruthlessly, ambitious social-climber with high expectations for her two daughters. She was known to be overbearing and strict, often reprimanding the girls for lapses in conduct and appearance – loose coat buttons or crooked stocking seams were punishable crimes in the palatial 12-room Park Avenue apartment where Jackie and Lee were raised.
Early on, the sisters were defined by their differences. Jackie, three and a half years older, was shy, intellectual and favored by Black Jack Bouvier for her sharp acumen. Sally Bedell Smith, author of ‘Grace and Power’ said he: ‘…relied on her cleverness as a way of ingratiating himself with his own father, Grampy Jack, a scholar of Greek and Latin who prided himself on his erudition and demeaned his son as an intellectual lightweight. Grampy Jack picked Jackie as his star, applauding her poems and literary interests.’ Jackie was also strong and athletic, which made her a talented equestrian that earned the affection of her hard-nosed mother.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (L) stands with her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill of Poland, and niece, Anna Christina Radziwill, on the walkway outside the Oval Office with the Kennedy family dog Clipper at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 15, 1963
Jackie and Lee rode the famous camel of Bashir Ahmad who entered the American stream of consciousness when Kennedy’s Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson had invited the impoverished camel driver to visit America during his 1961 hospitality trip to Pakistan. To Johnson’s surprise, Ahman took him up on the offer and visited him at his Texas Ranch and in Washington DC. Remembering the experience Jackie said: ‘riding a camel makes an elephant feel like a jet plane.’ Regardless, one of Lee’s shoes fell off and and Jackie insisted on holding the reigns
Truman Capote, a close friend and admirer of Lee Radziwill’s tried to launch launch her acting career. ‘Truman fell in love with me,’ said Radziwill to Vanity Fair. ‘He thought there was nothing I couldn’t do, and that I must go in the theater and I would be the perfect Tracy Lord.’ Reviews of the four week run of her stage performance in Chicago were terrible but on opening night she received a handful of telegrams from her closest friends wishing her luck, among them were New York power couple Jayne and Charles Wrightsman, her Aunt Edie Beale of Grey Gardens, and movie producer, Irene Selznick. Jerome Robbins the legendary Broadway choreographer wrote ‘Merde y Amour,’ which translates to ‘Sh*t and Love’
Jacqueline Kennedy poses in front of the Taj Mahal in 1962. Reflecting on the trip, she called it the ‘most magic two weeks of my life.’ 100,000 people lined the streets in March 1962 to catch a glimpse of the inimitable First Lady. Jackie’s motorcade slowly worked its course through New Delhi’s throngs of people shouting ‘Long Life Mrs. Kennedy’ while Lee sat stoically beside her
In her autobiographical book titled Happy Times, Lee explained how she realized early on that her father, ‘favored Jackie…. That was very clear to me, but I didn’t resent it, because I understood he had reason to … she was not only named after him … but she actually looked almost exactly like him, which was a source of great pride to my father.’
Lee blossomed into a classic beauty, but by her own admission said that she was a ‘soft and chubby’ in her youth. Characterizing her own children in a thinly veiled insult, Janet once said that Lee was likely to grow up and be ‘the type to have 12 children and live in a rose-covered cottage,’ while Jackie was destined for a fate far greater. Lee slimmed out in her teens and developed her own sense of style comprised of bright colors that got her noticed. It wasn’t lost on Jackie how the boys flocked to Lee, admiring her delicate bone structure and feminine figure.
Favoritism naturally breeds jealousy and competition but for a while Jackie and Lee’s sibling rivalry subsided as they relied on each other for support during the acrimonious divorce of their parents. Helen Chavchavadze, a woman who later had an affair with John Kennedy told Smith: ‘They were like little orphans. Jackie and Lee were very fused, the way sisters are when they haven’t had much security.’ Peace between the sisters would not last long.
Indian President Rajendra Prasad stands in between First lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, and her sister Lee Radziwill. Sally Bedell Smith said: ‘Jackie and Lee created a tableau of splendid outfits, mostly designed by Cassini, in sherbet colors that were intended to complement their surroundings.’ The sisters brought 64 pieces of luggage and within the first six days, Jackie wore 20 different outfits
Above is one of 89 photographs featured in the bound album of the famous sister’s historic journey to India. Jackie and Lee’s trip was an utter success, they visited the Taj Mahal by moonlight, stayed in a 900-room palace where they partied till dawn with maharajahs and maharanis before being invited to stay in Nehru’s personal home where he treated them to elaborate feasts with snake charmers and dancers.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (left) dines next to Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru (center) with her sister Lee Radziwill while on diplomatic journey to India and Pakistan in 1962. The sisters were utterly enchanted by Nehru and years later when Lee Radziwill reflected on the charming Prime Minister, she said: ‘he was the most fascinating, gentle and sensual man I ever met.’ And further compared him to her lifelong hero, Bernard Berenson the renown art historian, ‘they were both seductive mentally, rather than physically’
A green album from the sale features original photographs of Jackie Kennedy and Lee Radziwill’s visit to West Pakistan, this image depicts the First Lady being greeted by President Mohammad Ayub Khan
One of the more poignant items on Christie’s auction block is gold link bracelet with moonstone cabochons that is considered to be a symbol of their sisterhood. The bracelet is embellished with a whistle shaped charm inscribed in French: ‘SIFFLEZ SI TU ME VEUX,’ which translates to ‘whistle if you want me.’ The reverse side of the charm reads: J.L.B. FROM C.L.B., JULY 28, 1949.’ The item was originally given to Jackie for her 20th birthday as a gift from Lee and coincides with the time Jackie spent in Paris studying at the Sorbonne.
This gold link bracelet with moonstone cabochons is considered to be a symbol of their sisterhood and is one of the more poignant items offered in the estate sale. It was given to Jackie as a birthday as a gift from Lee before Jackie left to study at the Sorbonne in Paris. A whistle shaped charm inscribed in French reads: ‘whistle if you want me.’ The reverse side of the charm reads: J.L.B. FROM C.L.B., JULY 28, 1949′
Two years later in the summer of 1951, the Bouvier sisters would cut a dazzling swath through Europe. After months of persuading, Janet finally agreed to let 18-year-old Lee meet her sister abroad as her graduation gift from high school. The girls kept a scrapbook of their travels for their mother, that they illustrated with charming drawings and photographs of their experiences. One entry reads: ‘I know you are right about us representing our country and that we must never do anything that would call attention to us and make people shocked at Americans. WE DO sew on all out buttons and wear gloves and never go out in big cities except in what we would wear to church in Newport on Sunday.’
Their travel journal would eventually be collected and published in a 1974 memoir under the title, One Special Summer. Two copies of the book are being offered in the Christie’s sale, one of which is signed by both sisters and estimated to fetch $4,000 to $6,000. Viewing the photographs a half century later, Lee told The New York Times in 2000, ‘Look at us. How did those countries let us in? We look like two criminals arriving off the boat.
After months of persuading, Janet finally allowed 18-year-old Lee to meet her sister in France, (she had already been studying at the Sorbonne in Paris) and the summer long trip across Europe was Lee’s graduation gift from high school in 1951. The girls illustrated a scrapbook of their summer travels for their mother which they eventually published as a memoir in 1974 under the title, One Special Summer. Two copies of the book are being offered in the Christie’s auction, one of which is signed by both sisters
One entry written to their mother from the travel journal reads: ‘I know you are right about us representing our country and that we must never do anything that would call attention to us and make people shocked at Americans. WE DO sew on all out buttons and wear gloves and never go out in big cities except in what we would wear to church in Newport on Sunday’
A personal photo of the sisters shows Jackie (left) with her younger sister Lee (right) when they were children. Lee often played second fiddle to her older sister, Jackie, who was favored by both parents for her intellectual acumen and athletic ability. Eventually as they got older, Lee became known as ‘the pretty one’
Jacqueline Kennedy and Lee Radziwill pose for a formal dinner with Braj Kumar Nehru, the Indian Ambassador to the United States while on diplomatic journey to India and Pakistan
It was on that trip that Lee met one of her heroes, the renowned art historian Bernard Berenson who she said, ‘I felt like I met God.’ Radziwill maintained correspondence with him throughout the rest of his life. In one letter she wrote: ‘I am so terribly thrilled when I find anything concerned with art and at the height of enjoyment in an art gallery or museum.’
The sisters spent all summer perusing the famed art institutions in London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice and Madrid, the trip would go on to influence Lee’s lifelong passion for decorative arts, many of which are featured in her estate auction. Eye catching ornaments like a nineteenth century silver mounted coconut cup, a Charles X Ormolu patinated bronze clock and gilded trinket boxes by the French jewelry designer, Line Vautrin.
In 2016 she told Architectural Digest, ‘I abhor the American idea of starting with a tabula rasa every few years and getting rid of everything. When I buy something, I do so with the intention of keeping it forever. I’m constantly falling in love with objects, and they follow me around the world.’
Lee Radziwill’s notes and comments for a proposed 1971 documentary: ‘Looking at Life Thru a Rear View Mirror’ reveal personal thoughts concerning her life and family. She writes about ‘The country cemetery where both sides of our family lie– where we shall end. It has something touching and simple about it — unlike most cemeteries– not sad.’ Most poignantly she draws a parallel with her two sides of her family to the rivalry between the families in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: ‘But as said before, like Capulets and Montagues- unfriendly against each other.’
This photograph hails from an album up for auction of John F. Kennedy’s visit to Berlin in 1963. The inscription on the first page reads: ‘Prinzessin Lee Radziwill in remembrance of the visit to Berlin on the 26th of June 1963. Lee accompanied the president when he made his famous statement, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’
Original art pieces from the photographer, Peter Beard are among the priceless personal items being auctioned by Christie’s. In the summer of 1972, Lee Radziwill rented out the main cottage on Andy Warhol’s beach side compound in Montauk to be closer to her lover, Beard. Long after their affair was over, Radziwill and Beard remained friends. This personalized Christmas card points to their familiarity, it reads: ‘Lee @ Xmas 2011, warmest memories xxx over the last 40 years (only)! From Lsavo to Mersabit, Eliye Springs, Hell’s Gate, Hog Ranch and Aunt Edie’s, always xxxxxxxx from P.B. and Zara and Najme…all hands @ Land’s End & Driftwood Cove, Montauk.’ The reverse side is inscribed: ‘New Year’s greetings to the amazing L.R. from P.B. 2011 -2012’
Things rapidly changed for the Bouviers after the ‘One Special Summer.’ Two years later, in 1953 at the age 20, Lee married a wealthy, publishing scion named Michael Canfield, beating her socially-desirable sister to the alter. The strapping 6’3′, Harvard educated blonde was rumored to be the illegitimate son of Prince George, Duke of Kent who met Canfield’s mother, the drug addicted American socialite, Kiki Preston in Kenya. Both the Duke and Preston were members of the hedonistic clique of expat aristocrats known as the Happy Valley Set that settled on the shores of Lake Naivasha.
Lee’s personal copy of JFK’s Pulitzer Prize-winning essay collection is set to fetch $2,000 to $3,000
One month after Lee’s shotgun wedding to Canfield, Jackie outshined her sister with her marriage to John F. Kennedy, a young senator from Massachusetts from the socially prominent family worth $500million. According to the New York Times, Jackie and John’s wedding was the social event of the year, ‘a union of powerful and wealthy Roman Catholic families whose scions were handsome, charming, trendy and smart. It had a whiff of American royalty.’
Lee and Michael moved to England and began making their way through London’s social circuit but Michael was a heavy drinker and it wasn’t long before their marriage was on the rocks. Lee had a string of affairs, one of which was to Prince Stanislaw ‘Stas’ Radziwill, a larger-than-life Polish émigré whose family lost their fortune during WWII but managed to escape to London where Stas became a successful real-estate baron.
Sensing the demise of his relationship, Michael asked Jackie for advice on how to prevent Lee from leaving him. ‘Get more money, Michael,’ she said. When he indicated that he was paid a good salary in addition to his trust fund, Jackie responded: ‘No, Michael. I mean real money.’
Lee’s marriage to Stas gave her the grand lifestyle she always craved, she one that would even pique Jackie’s jealousy. The newlyweds moved into stunning 3-story Georgian style brick home at 4 Buckingham Place, just around the corner from Buckingham Palace. But her London pied-a-terre paled in comparison to the 17th century country estate called Turville Grange that was surrounded by 50 acres of lush gardens and stables in Oxfordshire. For once Lee felt like she had trumped her sister with her new title as princess, though it would be short lived when John F. Kennedy won the 1961 election, turning Jackie into the First Lady.
A framed photo of Rudolf Nureyev applying makeup before he goes to stage is expected to fetch $2,000. The image is an original print taken by the Earl of Snowdon, Anthony Armstrong-Jones, husband to Princess Margaret the Queen’s sister. Both sisters were mesmerized by Nureyev’s intoxicating sexual energy and both sisters are rumored to have had affairs with the ballerina
The photograph above depicts Lee’s son, Anthony Radziwill buried in the sand by Andy Warhol. By the 70s, Lee’s marriage to Prince Stanislaw Radziwill was all about over as she began an intense love affair with the legendary playboy photographer, Peter Beard. The personalized card reads: ‘(deer) Lee, May Heaven’s Choicest Blessings be Showered upon you XXXXXX Peter Beard Box 603 Montauk’
Lee began to flex her gift for interior design. She worked closely with the Italian architect and interior designer Renzo Mongiardino to transform her two homes into show palaces. Mongiardino was known for his maximalist style that juxtaposed ordinary objects with antiques from different eras against intricate textiles and wall panels painted with trompe l’oeil.
So impressed with her work, the Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev invited Radziwill and Mongiardino to turn his London abode into a Russian-Oriental harem. A framed photograph of Nureyev applying makeup in the mirror before a performance is one of the items up for auction from Lee’s estate. The photo taken by the Earl of Snowdon, Anthony Armstrong-Jones (who was married to the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret) is expected to fetch upwards of $2,000.
Nureyev defected from the Soviet Union and went on to become and international celebrity as one of the greatest dancers in the twentieth century. Nureyev was aggressively promiscuous and shamelessly narcissistic, he exuded what Darwin Porter described as ‘mesmerizing animal passion’ in the book, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, A Life Beyond Her Wildest Dreams. Lee was smitten after first watching Nureyev dance at the Royal Ballet in 1961. She invited the intoxicating dancer with chiseled good looks to stay with her at Turville Grange and the two shared a passion for sumptuous settings, beautiful objects and lustrous fabrics. Though Lee warned Jackie that Nureyev was ’99 per cent gay’ – it didn’t stop both of the sisters from pursing a romantic affair with the pirouetting prince of Prokofiev.
Jackie requested her sister’s company for the historic journey to Pakistan and India in lieu of President Kennedy where both sisters played a role as the President’s diplomatic emissary. in 1962. In her autobiography Lee recalled: ‘She had to travel a lot and liked to have me with her
Despite the strained relationship with her sister, Jacqueline Kennedy remained very close to her nephew, Anthony Radziwill and niece, Anna Christina Radziwil. A pair of inscribed books exchanged between Anthony Radziwill and his aunt are part of the sale, they remain as a testament to his relationship with his aunt
A photo album of the dedication ceremonies for the John F. Kennedy Memorial erected at Runnymede, England (where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215) feature personal pictures of Jacqueline Kennedy, her children John Jr. and Caroline, Robert Kennedy, Edward ‘Ted’ Kennedy and Patricia Kennedy. To the right is a photograph from the collection of the Queen pictured in navy while Jackie walks alongside Prince Philip. Prince Philip had compassion for Lee’s inferiority complex to her world famous sister, sitting next to her at a private dinner held in Buckingham Palace he once said: ‘You’re just like me — you have to walk three steps behind’
According to Porter, Jackie once told Truman Capote that ‘Rudi systematically plans to seduce every member of my family — even my son when he grows up.’ Jackie put her foot down when it came to John Jr and was supposedly furious after he spent a month with Nureyev in Italy. Porter alleges that knowledge of the trip provoked an unexpected homophobic outburst from Jackie who reportedly complained to the Washington socialite Bunny Mellon: ‘I don’t want my son to grow up to be a fag.’
As Jackie ascended to The White House, Lee struggled to maintain her identity as age-old sibling rivalries began to run their course. Time Magazine christened Jackie as ‘The First Lady of Fashion,’ after the spectacular success of her trip to France where John famously introduced himself to the press as ‘the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.’ Though behind the scenes, Lee was instrumental in styling her sister for her debut on the world stage, smuggling Givenchy dresses into the White House because the President insisted that Jackie exclusively wear American designers.
Andre Leon Talley, Editor-at-Large of Vogue Magazine told Vanity Fair: ‘Lee was the first to be dressed in a Paris couture house, and not Jackie. Jackie loves Paris, but she’s as American as a sweater … but she’s not as American as apple pie.’
Despite the cracks in their relationship, the sisters put on a united front for the historic diplomatic visit to India in which Jackie insisted her sister join. 100,000 people lined the roads in March 1962 to catch a glimpse of the inimitable First Lady. As Jackie’s motorcade slowly worked its course through New Delhi’s throngs of people shouting ‘Long Life Mrs. Kennedy’ while Lee sat stoically beside her.
A snap of Lee driving a sport car, taken by Jonas Mekas – the avant guarde filmmaker who spent a long hot summer spent at Andy Warhol’s house in Montauk in the 1970s with Radziwill, her two children and Peter Beard. Of the complicated relationship Jackie and Lee had, Mekas said they were ‘like two trees whose branches kept getting tangled up, their shadows indistinguishable’