President John F. & First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s
English Victorian tea table
Quite possibly the most important tea table in American History
The famed, English Victorian tea table
Owned by President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy
A very fine and very rare, English Victorian, chinoiserie decorated, black lacquer and papier mâché, tea table, the removable rectangular tray decorated with five Chinese figures in golden polychrome colors on a black lacquered background, raised on a later rectangular conforming Japanned, chinoiserie and gilt decorated stand with four bracket-form legs.
This magnificent table was among the furnishings that were used to decorate, then, Senator John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy’s Georgetown townhouse when Senator Kennedy represented the state of Massachusetts in the United States Senate. Senator Kennedy won the presidency in November of 1960. The Kennedy family moved from their Georgetown residence into the White House in early 1961. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy commissioned New York, society decorator, Sister Parish, of the famed Parish Hadley Firm to decorate the private rooms in the White House that would be used by the First Family as their residence. This beautiful table was installed by Sister Parish as part of the decoration in the First Family’s living room called the Yellow Oval Room. A photograph of the table, in situ, in the Yellow Oval Room at the White House, is featured in the book, Parish Hadley Sixty Years of American Design, page 126. Numerous photographs of the Yellow Oval Room taken during the Kennedy administration, contain this beautiful tea table. In the Parish Hadley photograph, the table is shown next to the famous rocking chair, which became President Kennedy’s favorite chair. The rocking chair offered the President temporary relief from the debilitating back pain he suffered as a result of injuries he sustained during his service in the United States Navy during World War II. Other noteworthy furnishings in the room include a pair of Louis XVI fauteuil, once owned by President Thomas Jefferson and the famous, Denis-Louis Ancellet desk, upon which the Camp David Peace Accords were signed.
Measures: Overall: 33-1/2” W x 27-1/4” D x 19” H
Tray: 28-1/2” W x 22-1/4” D
Provenance: From the Estate of Jacquelyn Kennedy Onassis, Sotheby’s, April 23 – April 26, 1996, Lot #50E
Additional Images available upon request.
Few First Ladies in American history have left their mark on the White House the way in which Jacqueline Kennedy elegantly cast her spell, not only on the American public but quite literally on everyone in the world. Mrs. Kennedy’s indelible style and magnificent taste became legendary. When John and Jackie Kennedy moved into the White House, Jackie found that the Truman era décor and furnishings were modern in style or were casual reproductions of period pieces. Jackie is quoted as saying that it, “looked like its been furnished by discount stores.” In short, Jackie considered the White House, “that dreary Maison Blanche.” With its haphazard decoration and reproduction furniture, Mrs. Kennedy felt the White House didn’t befit the heritage of the home of the President of the United States.
Jackie’s upbringing and education gave her a deep appreciation for fine art and authentic period decorative arts. She looked for ways, on the White House’s limited budget, not only to redecorate the White House, but to restore the White House to a grander, more authentic period look appropriate to it’s roll in American life.
In short order, the Kennedys created the White House Historical Association to help publicize the heritage of the President's house. They got the White House declared a museum to help preserve it and put in place a fine arts committee to accept gifts of antique furniture that fit the White House. Mrs. Kennedy enlisted Henry DuPont, a well-connected collector of Americana, Sister Parish of Parish Hadley, New York and Stéphane Boudin, a respected Parisian designer from the House of Jansen, Paris, to help acquire antiques from donors and add more rigor and sophistication to the decorating. Sister Parish would concentrate on the family’s private residence and Boudin would design and decorate the state floor rooms and the West Wing.
Jackie approached the White House restoration and redecoration with exacting standards. She endlessly studied books and periodicals to learn about White House history. Thanks to her research, four Cezanne paintings in the National Gallery were moved to the White House, the original intended destination.
Jackie was more than willing to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dirty in the process. She searched the White House from top to bottom, from basement storage rooms to bathrooms and closets, ultimately unearthing valuable items already housed in the White House. Her efforts aided in the discovery of carpets ordered by Theodore Roosevelt and French flatware used during James Monroe’s Presidency. Century old busts where found in a downstairs men’s room. When moving aside electronics and communication equipment in a downstairs broadcast room, Mrs. Kennedy uncovered the now famous Resolute Desk. The desk was constructed from wood salvaged from HMS [Her Majesty’s Ship] Resolute and was given as a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes. Upon it’s discovery Mrs. Kennedy placed the desk in the Oval Office where is has remained for many presidential administrations.
News about Jackie’s White House restoration began to spread as soon as the project began. A Life magazine article, in its September 1, 1961 issue, delved further into her work. It was via television that the First Lady was able to give the very first televised tour of the White House, which allowed her to share restoration details with the viewing public.
On February 14, 1962, A Television Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy was broadcast on CBS and NBC. The show, seen by 56 million viewers, displayed Kennedy's depth of knowledge about numerous pieces in the White House. Well poised, elegant and always diplomatic, Jackie took this opportunity to share the White House and thank the many important donors. President Kennedy also made a brief on-camera appearance. The program went on to air around the world, even in countries on the opposite side of the United States in the Cold War. Future First Lady Barbara Bush appreciated the broadcast enough to send Kennedy a fan letter. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences presented Kennedy with an honorary Emmy Award for her work.
Jacqueline Kennedy once said, "Everything in the White House must have a reason for being there. It would be sacrilege merely to 'redecorate' it, a word I hate. It must be restored, and that has nothing to do with decoration. That is a question of scholarship." During her time as First Lady, Mrs. Kennedy undertook a restoration of the White House that transformed it into a showcase for American Presidential history. To this day, Jacqueline Kennedy’s magnificent style and her unique understanding of the importance of her role as First Lady, remain as testament to her legacy on the White House.