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Jackie Kennedy Details Love For Sargent Paintings That Hung Over JFK's Favorite Chair

This article is more than 5 years old.

While preparing an exhibit of watercolors by painter John Singer Sargent, a curator at the MFA made a discovery in the museum's archives that is especially poignant this month, 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Erica Hirshler found photocopies of letters Jacqueline Kennedy wrote to then-MFA director Perry Rathbone two months after her husband's assassination.

Jacqueline Kennedy was responding to Rathbone's offer to extend the loan on four of the six Sargents that hung in the family's private sitting room in the White House as the mourning widow was moving out and to her home in Georgetown.

“You cannot imagine what they mean to me – or perhaps you can because you extended their loan so chivalrously. But they were in the room — the only room in the White House which was our private, happy sitting room — where the children tumbled around — where we sat with friends. And the ones I chose were on the wall opposite where I sat. The President sat under them. Whenever I think of all our happy days and evenings in this strange house ... I think of him sitting in his favorite chair with the Sargents over his head.

Perhaps it is a way to cling to a past that can never be the same again — perhaps in a few months they will make me so sad that I will want to send them back to you ... But right now they are a consolation."

In the end, Mrs. Kennedy returned the watercolors to the MFA because she “simply could not bear to see them again now.” They are on view now as part of a larger Sargent exhibit at the MFA.

This program aired on November 15, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.


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