Princess Lee Radziwill’s private collection goes to auction at Christie’s

The socialite and aesthete hung out with Warhol, Nureyev and Capote and amassed a cache of collectables that are testament to her colourful life

Caroline Lee Bouvier and her sister Jackie captured on camera on tour in India. The image was kept in an album containing 89 photographs of the sisters in both monochrome and colour (estimate $40,000 to $60,000)
Caroline Lee Bouvier and her sister Jackie captured on camera on tour in India. The image was kept in an album containing 89 photographs of the sisters in both monochrome and colour (estimate $40,000 to $60,000)

Caroline Lee Bouvier, better known as Princess Lee Radziwill, was, of course, the younger sister of Jacqueline Kennedy, president John F Kennedy's wife, but she was also a significant figure in her own right. An interior designer, aesthete and global style icon, the precocious Lee was still a teenager when she wrote to the famous art critic Bernard Berenson stating: “I am so terribly thrilled when I find anything concerned with art and at the height of enjoyment in an art gallery or museums.” A lifetime of collecting art – and husbands – ensued, the fruit of which will be auctioned by Christie’s at New York’s Rockefeller Center on October 17, following her death in February this year. 

The cover of the Indian photo album is inscribed Visit of Mrs John F. Kennedy to India (March 1962)
The cover of the Indian photo album is inscribed Visit of Mrs John F. Kennedy to India (March 1962)
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Given that Lee’s circle included Rudolf Nureyev, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Peter Beard, Giorgio Armani and countless others, her home reflected a life lived on a lavish scale. “Lee Radziwill is remembered by all who knew her as a symbol of sophistication and connoisseurship with a fascinating life story,” says Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s Americas. 

A set of 15 Indian reverse-painted glass pictures depicting classical figures, within a custom black-and-white decorated frame designed by Renzo Mongiardino (estimate $10,000 to $15,000)
A set of 15 Indian reverse-painted glass pictures depicting classical figures, within a custom black-and-white decorated frame designed by Renzo Mongiardino (estimate $10,000 to $15,000)
Lee gave this moonstone and gold charm bracelet, dated around 1949, to her sister Jackie Bouvier (later Kennedy) as she set off to France to study at the University of Grenoble and the Sorbonne (estimate $1,000 to $1,500)
Lee gave this moonstone and gold charm bracelet, dated around 1949, to her sister Jackie Bouvier (later Kennedy) as she set off to France to study at the University of Grenoble and the Sorbonne (estimate $1,000 to $1,500)

The pieces in the sale are not only decorative but of historical importance. One photograph album, for example, is inscribed Visit of Mrs John F. Kennedy to India (March 1962). Lee was present on the trip and described prime minister Nehru as “the most fascinating, gentle and sensual man I’d ever met”. The album contains 89 photographs of the sisters in both black-and-white and colour and is estimated at $40,000 to $60,000. There are also albums devoted to the sisters’ trip to Pakistan on the same journey – one features 23 black-and-white photographs and is estimated at $12,000 to $15,000, and the other, with 44 photographs, is estimated at $20,000 to $30,000.

The sisters captured riding an elephant in one of the historically important photographs in the Indian album
The sisters captured riding an elephant in one of the historically important photographs in the Indian album
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Other lots reflect Lee’s love of art and design. There are 15 Indian reverse-painted glass pictures, each depicting classical figures, within a custom black-and-white decorated frame designed by Renzo Mongiardino (estimated at $10,000 to $15,000). Mongiardino also designed a partial set of maquettes, which were preliminary plans for Lee’s UK residence and include a bedroom, dressing room and sitting room (estimated at $20,000 to $30-000). This was the first design partnership of a longstanding and famed collaboration between Lee and Renzo. 

There are several items from Lee’s friend the artist and photographer Peter Beard, which include a gelatin silver print from 1960 entitled Running Giraffe that is estimated at $30,000 to $50,000. There is much more in the way of beautiful paintings and furniture but perhaps the most touching item is a moonstone and gold charm bracelet from around 1949, which Lee gave Jackie as a 20th birthday and going away present, as Jackie set off to France to study at the University of Grenoble and the Sorbonne. The estimate for the piece is $1,000 to $1,500, but the realised sum is sure to be far higher than that.

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