Snapshot: Merry Christmas from Mrs. Kennedy

“No one else looked like her, spoke like her, wrote like her, or was so original in the way she did things,” commended Ted Kennedy of his former first lady sister-in-law. To be sure, Jacqueline Kennedy was an American original—in her every manner, thought, and approach. She cherished and championed the arts, but few knew that the woman who restored and elevated the president’s home, established the White House Historical Association, and helped save from destruction such monuments as Grand Central Terminal and the 13th-century B.C. temples of Abu Simbel, was herself an artist. In fact, she was quite a talented painter: the people and animals she depicted were graced with elegantly long figures; her style was dreamy and romantic, colorful and decorative—bearing a hint of Raoul Dufy. In the summer of 1963, Mrs. Kennedy completed the two paintings seen here: “Glad Tidings” and “Journey of the Magi.” Hallmark produced them as Christmas cards later that year, with proceeds going toward the development of the National Cultural Center, which she helped envision. Ironically, her joyful cards took off just as her husband’s life and administration came to a shockingly abrupt end. Still, her dream for a national arts center would eventually be realized, and named the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She “brought the arts to the center of national attention,” Ted Kennedy said. “Today, in large part because of her inspiration and vision, the arts are an abiding part of national policy.” This holiday season, 56 years after she first painted them, may her Christmas scenes serve as a reminder not just of her artful legacy, but of her artful life.

Jacqueline Kennedy's hand-painted Christmas cards.
Jacqueline Kennedy’s 1963 painting “Journey of the Magi,” which was produced by Hallmark as Christmas cards to raise funds for the National Cultural Center.
President and Mrs. Kennedy in the Blue Room with the
1961 White House Christmas tree