Elegant and uplifting entertaining was a hallmark of the Kennedy presidency. Jacqueline Kennedy Entertains: The Art of the White House Dinner exhibit portrayed Jacqueline Kennedy's distinctive and innovative approach to entertaining in the White House using the collections of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
As White House hostess, Jacqueline Kennedy took a personal interest in
the artists that performed for the president and his guests. The
agreement of cellist Pablo Casals, one of the most celebrated musicians
of the 20th century, to play at the November 13, 1961 dinner at the
White House for the Governor of Puerto Rico was a great triumph. Casals
had refused to play in the United States since the government had
recognized the regime of dictator Francisco Franco of Spain, the
cellist's native country. Not only would Casals break his personal
embargo, but one of the world's most respected musicians would enhance
the first lady's quest for more uplifting entertainment at the White
House. Casals, accompanied by pianist Mieczyslaw Horzowksi and violinist
Alexander Schneider, performed a program of pieces by Mendelssohn,
Schumann, and Couperin. That evening, Mrs. Kennedy wore this beaded silk
gown designed by Oleg Cassini.
Perhaps no other White House dinner had more personal meaning for
Jacqueline Kennedy than the evening honoring French Minister of Culture
André Malraux at the White House on May 11, 1962. Both President and
Mrs. Kennedy shared an admiration of Malraux's multi-faceted career as a
novelist, art historian, explorer, Spanish Civil war fighter pilot,
World War II resistance leader and advocate of the arts. The first lady
and Malraux had developed a friendship following a tour of Paris art
museums during the Kennedy's state visit to Paris in June 1961. By
according him all the courtesies normally reserved for a head of state,
the Kennedys hoped to focus national attention on the role of the arts
in America and encourage the development of Washington as a cultural
For after-dinner entertainment violinist Isaac Stern, pianist Eugene
Istomin, and cellist Leonard Rose performed Schubert's Piano Trio in B
Flat Minor. At the end of the evening, Monsieur Malraux whispered a
promise to Jacqueline Kennedy that he would send to her France's most
famous cultural treasure, the Mona Lisa , to be displayed at the
National Gallery in Washington. Jacqueline Kennedy wore this shantung
silk gown, designed by Guy Douvier for Christian Dior, at the White
House dinner honoring French Minister of Culture André Malraux.
Jacqueline Kennedy's work to restore the rooms and furnishings of the White House transformed it from a place where the president worked and lived into what she called "an emblem of the American Republic." This created a stage for the celebration of intellectual and artistic excellence. No event exemplified her work more than the dinner held to honor the 49 living Nobel Prize Winners of the Western Hemisphere on April 29, 1962. In his toast to the honored guests that evening, President Kennedy noted that it was "the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." That evening, Jacqueline Kennedy wore this pleated celadon silk jersey evening dress designed by Oleg Cassini.
The exhibit also features copies of remarks made at dinners by President Kennedy with his own handwritten notes, and examples of table settings used at dinners in the Kennedy White House. In addition, the exhibit includes Mrs. Kennedy's handwritten memos and letters regarding entertainment, guest lists, image seating plans , menus, table settings and flower arrangements which illustrate her personal involvement and attention to detail in planning the events.