Mona Lisa in Camelot: How Jacqueline Kennedy and Da Vinci's Masterpiece Charmed and Captivated a Nation

Overview

In December 1962 Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa set sail from Paris to New York for what was arguably the riskiest art exhibition ever mounted. The fragile icon traveled like a head of state, with armed guards and military surveillance, in a temperature-controlled vault. Masterminding the entire show was First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. For eighty-eight charmed days, “Lisa Fever” swept the nation as nearly two million Americans attended exhibits in Washington, D.C. and New York. It was the greatest outpouring of appreciation...
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Overview

In December 1962 Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa set sail from Paris to New York for what was arguably the riskiest art exhibition ever mounted. The fragile icon traveled like a head of state, with armed guards and military surveillance, in a temperature-controlled vault. Masterminding the entire show was First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. For eighty-eight charmed days, “Lisa Fever” swept the nation as nearly two million Americans attended exhibits in Washington, D.C. and New York. It was the greatest outpouring of appreciation for a single work of art in American history and the beginning of our nation’s love affair with the arts.

Acclaimed biographer Margaret Leslie Davis “tells the tale in charming fashion” (USA Today), revealing a saga filled with international intrigue and the irresistible charm of Camelot and its queen.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The 1963 American exhibition of the Mona Lisa in New York City and Washington, D.C., was America's first blockbuster art show, and Davis recounts in numbing detail the negotiations, preparations, flummoxes and successes of the exhibit. The exhibition was masterminded by the diplomatically savvy Mrs. Kennedy, whose personal relationships with French cultural minister André Malraux and National Gallery director John Walker overcame negative French press and concerns over subjecting a fragile artwork to a transatlantic journey. Heavily guarded and packed in a custom strong box, the Mona Lisa traveled in a first-class cabin on the USS France. Though Walker planned the exhibit with military precision, the opening ceremony was chaotic, and the painting was badly hung and poorly lit. Although Davis's (Rivers in the Desert) tale of the inner workings of a major art exhibition has its moments, it's undermined by padding (like the text of an imagined interview of LaGioconda by a "newspaper reporter with nothing to report") and the author's fawning over "Jackie." 16 pages of b&w photos. (Nov. 15)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Davis (The Culture Broker, 2007, etc.) chronicles the surpassingly popular 1962-63 exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa in Washington, D.C., and New York. Not everyone was happy, she notes. The French worried about transporting their treasure across the Atlantic in winter via passenger ship, and indeed the S.S. France was briefly beset by a strong storm, though it and the painting emerged unscathed. National Gallery director John Walker, placed in charge by President Kennedy, worried about security arrangements and feared possible damage to the fragile Renaissance painting. Davis carefully follows the story from the initial idea for the loan, to the negotiations, the arrangements, the transportation, the displays, the return to France and the aftermath. The President and First Lady were popular in France, and Jackie's patent fondness for all things French endeared her abroad even as it raised eyebrows here. But the Kennedys were nothing if not experts at managing their images, the author ably shows. During their short tenure in the White House they endeavored to elevate the cultural life of the nation-a noble educational attempt that was making some progress when bullets ended it all in Dallas. Charmed by Jackie, French cultural minister Andre Malraux supported the loan. Madeleine Hours, head of the Louvre's laboratory, argued against it, but once she knew she had no other choice did all she could to assure the painting's stability and safety in transit. Davis is careful to provide all the principals' back stories, humanizing the adventure in a pleasing way. But her prose and attitude are equally hyperbolic: Favored adjectives include stupendous, brilliant and remarkable, and onlythe most feverish Jackie lovers will be thrilled by the author's breathless paragraphs about the First Lady's wardrobe. An evocation of a time when America's leaders were proud of their "elitist" cultural tastes and fearless about inviting the citizenry to share them. Agent: Betsy Amster/Betsy Amster Literary Enterprises
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306818431
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 10/6/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Margaret Leslie Davis is the award-winning author of The Culture Broker, Rivers in the Desert, and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Dark Side of Fortune. She lives in Los Angeles.
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