When 'Mona Lisa' Came to Washington

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Her great age has made her fragile. Over the centuries her poplar panel has both warped and split. She doesn't get out anymore, but she used to. Many years ago she came to the United States.

She came because Jacqueline Kennedy, the wife of President John F. Kennedy, charmed the French government into letting the delicate picture travel. In 1962, the "Mona Lisa" sailed across the sea (in her own cabin on the SS France) and visited this country. More than 2 million people -- and at least one viewer that wasn't a person -- saw her on her tour.

In January 1962, Mona Lisa came to the National Gallery of Art on the Mall. It was the depth of winter. People lined up anyway -- the women in fur coats, the kids in parkas -- stamping in the cold.

"One small boy waited in line for hours," wrote John Walker, the gallery's director, "and when he got to the picture opened his coat and let his dog peek out."

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