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Not Your Typical Garage Sale

Caroline Kennedy's House-Clearing Collects $5.5 Million

By Linda Hales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 2005; Page C02

It will take more than dust to dull the luster of Camelot.

The auction of Kennedy household belongings this week in New York attracted collectors, dealers, decorators, a fashion editor, former politicos, an artist and at least one Greek ship owner. For three days at Sotheby's salesroom, or by phone from various points on the globe, the motley crew vied for equally motley bric-a-brac and sun-bleached furnishings salvaged from five of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis's homes.

Buyers paid $5.5 million in all for the assortment of chests, baskets, pillows, sketches, paintings, lamps, assemblages of Sandwich-style glass and other trappings of weekend life. The immediate family of John F. Kennedy was linked to each of the 691 lots offered for sale. The take did not come close to the $34 million from the 1996 auction of Jackie Onassis's estate, which included a 40-carat diamond engagement ring from Aristotle Onassis. But this was memorabilia on a domestic scale.

The surviving member of America's most famous family, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, had taken stock of properties from Massachusetts to Middleburg and decided it was time to let go.

"After my mother died in 1994, my brother and I were faced with the task of deciding what to do with her possessions, and after careful consideration, we sold some of them in 1996," Kennedy wrote in the catalogue. "In the intervening years, and the death of my brother, I found myself again with more houses and belongings than I could possibly use or enjoy."

Off to Sotheby's went wing chairs in need of reupholstering, 45-year-old wicker, incomplete sets of crockery, stacks of fading decorating magazines and a library of political tomes including "The End of Liberalism."

"These were the drippings," said the New York decorator Mario Buatta, who bid unsuccessfully on a pair of botanical prints. "It wasn't exactly her jewels."

A few name-brand treasures came up, such as a Faberge frame and a small Renoir, but most of the goods derived their charm by intimate association with a legend. A Louis Vuitton hatbox, presumably Jackie's, sold for $54,000. A delicate Chinese export porcelain mug from 1785, with five wood-handled calligraphy brushes, went for $18,000. Sotheby's had photographed the mug on the corner of the drafting table in Jackie's New York apartment.

The highest-priced item, at $452,800, was a Chippendale-style maple secretary bookcase, with "JFK" monogram and a version of the Great Seal in inlaid wood. The cheapest lot, three souvenir horns, possibly cow, with worn flower decals, brought $390.

An Aaron Shikler portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy with her young children, Caroline and John Jr., brought $216,000. Shikler painted the Kennedys again and again in soft, moody colors, with no harsh light or sharp edges. His first commission, a 1968 oil of the two children, led Mrs. Kennedy to commission Shikler to paint the official White House portraits.

A Kennedy-style rocker with brown paint and worn seat sold for $96,000. The buyer, Neapolitan ship owner Lucio Zagari, said that the auction was "one of the most exciting days of my life," according to Sotheby's.

Like Buatta, I visited the presale exhibition. On Day 2, he bid by phone. I monitored results online.

Sotheby's had sought to convey a sense of sunny, unfussy living. There was an abundance of tattered prettiness in living and dining rooms in Hyannis Port, Mass.; a rustic tack room from the property in Peapack, N.J.; bedrooms and a wicker-filled porch from Martha's Vineyard, and the sitting room with aubergine velvet sofa of the Upper East Side apartment overlooking Central Park.

"The room settings looked really great," Buatta said.

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