“I was exposed to so many beautiful places and lovely things that my eyes became saturated,” Lee Radziwill scrawled across the lined pages of a college notebook. Her handwriting is a wide-set script, her Ts crossed with a slanted lines, her lowercase Fs executed with sharp, straight tops rather than gentle curves. “Exposed” is in all capital letters, “eyes” and “saturated” underlined, indicating emphasis, and considering the book’s label—“Lectures in Omaha & Dallas Women’s Club”—the words were likely stressed out loud to a gathered group of ladies, yearning to soak up Radziwill’s impeccable taste.
Over her 85 years, Lee’s lovely things were legendary, laid out in her Paris pied-à-terre, her Fifth Avenue apartment, her London residence at 4 Buckingham Place, and her 17th century English countryside estate, Turville Grange. They were placed perfectly in their Renzo Mongiardino interiors, immortalized by Cecil Beaton and Horst P. Horst in the glossy pages of this very magazine. As her life went on, her homes and possessions were whittled down. But even until her death in February 2019, Radziwill surrounded herself with her lovely things.
On October 17, the last of them will go up for auction at Christie’s New York as Sale 17322, The Collection of Lee Bouvier Radziwill. “What's interesting is how much the owner reveals of themselves through what they have, what they had and what they kept,” says Jonathan Rendell, Deputy Chairman of Christie’s. “I find it very touching the things that she kept. The things that meant something to her.”
The lot includes personal mementos that are of historical importance, considering Radziwill was sister to First Lady Jackie Kennedy. There’s a photo album of John F. Kennedy’s visit to Berlin, where he delivered his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” as Radziwill stood by his side, and one of her and Jackie’s semi-official state visit to India. Many items show off her impeccable, worldly taste: an Indian silk table-cloth of her own design, Limoges porcelain dinnerware with floral motifs, her pink and green bedroom set dotted with cigarette burns. (“I like to create rooms which are essentially traditional—and then add touches of the bizarre and the delicious,” Radziwill said of her decor style.) Some show off her wit—a gilded toucan with a glint in his eyes, Roger Vivier sunglasses with lenses so big they serve to make their wearer stand out in the attempt to be discreet.
And then there are the objects that serve as symbols of her story. The bible her mother gave her when she was eight, a year after her parents got divorced. A class ring from Miss Porter’s, her New England boarding school. (“I always hated school, but I really hated Miss Porter’s,” Radziwill once told T Magazine.) A set of wedding china, from her first marriage to publishing executive Michael Canfield. A second set of china from her union with Prince Stanisław Radziwill, whom she called Stas. Art by Peter Beard, the handsome photographer who she had an love affair with. There are telegrams from family and friends after Radziwill’s acting debut in Truman Capote’s A Philadelphia Story, in which she received less-than-favorable reviews. (“DEAREST LEE - DON’T READ THE NOTICES AND KEEP GOING,” wrote Aunt Edie Beale, who would herself become unintentionally famous as “Big Edie” a few years later with Grey Gardens.) Her travels with Jackie are chronicled in albums, books, and black and white pictures. The aforementioned notebook details the lectures she gave as an interior designer. “Her whole life is here,” says Rendell.
No life can be completely summed up by its remaining possessions. But they can, and do, lift a veil—in this case, on a doyenne of design, a style icon, and a historical figure—that many observed from afar, yet never knew. You can learn so much about a person from the last of their lovely things.
Set Design: Javier Irigoyen
Originally Appeared on Vogue