What you see: A previously unpublished shot of Jacqueline Bouvier at Hammersmith Farm on her wedding day in 1953. It’s one of three black-and-white photos and a few negatives depicting the wedding of Bouvier and John F. Kennedy in Newport, Rhode Island. John McInnis Auctioneers estimates them at $500 to $1,000.
The expert: Dan Meader, gallery director for John McInnis Auctioneers.
Could we start by talking about the importance of Hammersmith Farm to Jacqueline Bouvier during her life? Did its presence near Newport convince Jacqueline and Jack to have their wedding in Newport? Hammersmith Farm was extremely important to Jackie. She explains her love of the farm in her own words in an inscription in The Architectural Heritage of Newport Rhode Island: “For Uncle Hugh [her stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss] on his seventieth birthday–a book about the place you brought us to–but the most beautiful house there for me will forever be Hammersmith Farm. That is my beloved architectural heritage of Newport — and thank you for it — with all love, Jackie, August 28, 1967.” She absolutely loved the place so much, and Jack loved it too. It was more removed and less stressful for him. It was on the ocean, the gardens were spectacular, and they could go to the America’s Cup [yacht race].
Was Hammersmith Farm John F. Kennedy’s introduction to Newport? He had connections there, but it gave him his true love for Newport.
Do we know who shot these Kennedy wedding photos? It was Bachrach, a very famous photography studio.
So the images in the lot were not taken by someone who lived at Hammersmith Farm? No, these were professional photos, not snapshots.
How were they discovered? They were moved directly from Hammersmith Farm, where Jackie lived, her mother lived, her brother lived. They were stored on the property. Colleen Townsend Pilat was an assistant to Yusha, the brother, and helped clear out the property after he died. She was bequeathed all these things. When I got them, it was a mishmash of Jackie’s wedding, [her sister] Lee Radziwill, and her sister Janet, all mixed in. I had to pull them out. I had to figure out who the people were and who the weddings were. Lots of weddings were done on the property.
So these Jack and Jackie wedding images were one of three sets of wedding images in the same pile? Yes. Lee’s first wedding, which took place just a few months earlier than Jackie’s, and Janet’s wedding. It was almost a two-year project, doing all the research and the curating of it. I had to figure out what was what. It was really… fun. [Laughs] It was a challenge.
How big a deal was the wedding in 1953? Clearly it’s regional news, because Jack Kennedy is a sitting Massachusetts senator. Did it make national news? Positively. It was covered throughout the United States and to a degree, overseas. In an earlier lot, there’s a press release for the wedding. The release was modeled after [the one written for] Eunice [Kennedy’s] wedding. Joe Kennedy rules the roost on everything. Eunice’s was a big wedding, but this would be the biggest one. Joe had his eye on a specific thing–his son being president. Joe was Jack’s press agent. You could say he was behind the scenes on everything. Jack had his own thoughts, but he had an overseer on everything.
The photo of Jackie, solo, in her wedding dress has never been published before. How did this photo managed to go unpublished before now? I think the shot of Jackie with her veil billowing was chosen over this. I’ve had other issues of these pictures [the two outdoors shots] and they’re all well-known. These particular ones have not been. I haven’t seen those particular versions.
Where on the grounds of Hammersmith Farm were the outdoor shots taken? Near an equestrian area? At the front lawn, I believe. If you turn your head to the left, you’d see the ocean. At that point, [the family] was raising Guernsey cows and they had horses as well.
And the group shot shows the bridesmaids, the bridesmatron, and the groomsmen? Yes. This particular group shot shows Jackie looking down at a dog.
In reading up on the wedding, it sounds like Jackie didn’t get much of what she wanted from her “special day”–that Joe Kennedy stuck his nose in and was very controlling. How did things unfurl? [Laughs] He oversaw… it was just the kind of guy he was. She knew when she got into [it] there were limitations on what would happen.
I understand she wanted a much smaller wedding and reception than she had, but anywhere from 700 to 800 were at the church, and more than 1200 were at the reception at Hammersmith Farm. That would be Joe [his doing]. The biggest thing for Jackie was her father, Black Jack. He was supposed to give her away.
From what I’ve read, allegedly, Jackie’s mom, who was Black Jack’s ex, tempted him into getting drunk in hopes that would make him fail to show up… It was very disappointing for her. She loved her father. Her stepfather, who she called Uncle Hugh [stepped in and did the honors.] She loved him too, but I think she wanted her birth father there. It was probably a big issue in her mind. I haven’t heard of anything else being out of place.
I haven’t been inside the church, but I have been in that area of Newport, and it’s… pretty congested. How did the church physically accommodate all those people? If you’ve seen some of the photos, there are throngs of people on the street, ten to 15 deep. They weren’t all in the church. In the auction, [there are lots with typewritten documents of] the procession for the church, where the bridal party was staying, who was going in which car. It’s very interesting. They had everything right down to a science.
That’s good preparation for life at the White House… [Laughs]
Hammersmith Farm was a 300-acre property, so it could handle 1,200-plus people. How did the reception go? I see a photo in the group that shows guests at a long table. There was a huge tent, and there were tables outside the tent–the reception sprawled onto the lawn as well. It was kind of like a picnic at some point. It was very difficult, I am sure, for everyone to have time with the couple. But what I’ve heard from people who were there was they had a great time. No one felt slighted. The next lot after shows [wedding guests] individuals, couples, and kids with smiles on their faces. That was a different part of the property. What would be really nice is if people find themselves in those pictures, or their children find them.
How do these Kennedy wedding photos reflect the image that Joe Kennedy was trying to project for his family, and how do they foreshadow the glamour of the Kennedy White House? They played very well for what Joe Kennedy had in mind for his son. They played extremely well. He couldn’t ask for a better backdrop.
How did you arrive at the estimate of $500 to $1,000? It’s what we felt was reasonable. It’s an unreserved sale. They’re gonna sell for whatever they sell for. But what we have here are personal photos from Jackie’s family, right from Hammersmith Farm. That’s what separates them from other photographs. It could possibly go much higher.
How well do Kennedy wedding photos do at auction? They’re always highly sought-after. The Kennedy wedding invitations sell for thousands. Any of those kinds of things maintain a human interest. Price-wise, they could go for higher than a wedding invite.
Why will these Kennedy wedding photos stick in your memory? Because of where they came from. We love what we do here, and we get sought out to handle these things because of our past experience with them. For me, the most important thing is the provenance. When it comes right from the source, there’s no doubt about how valuable it was within the family.
John McInnis Auctioneers is on Twitter.
Dan Meader appeared before on The Hot Bid talking about a record-setting Presidential Air Force One bomber jacket, given by John F. Kennedy to loyal aide Dave Powers.
Image is courtesy of John McInnis Auctioneers.
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