That Portrait of Jackie: Suit Dropped Over Painting of the Future First Lady

Framed painted portrait of young Jackie Bouvier, future First Lady Jackie Kennedy hanging on white wall
The portrait of young Jackie Bouvier, Courtesy Wallace Gallery

Around 1948, a wealthy summer resident of East Hampton, “Black Jack” Bouvier, commissioned painter Irwin Hoffman to make a portrait of his 19-year-old daughter, Jackie. Although divorced from his wife, “Black Jack” still maintained a home on Lily Pond Lane and often hosted his daughter there. He adored Jackie. Earlier that summer, riding her horse at the Riding Club of East Hampton, she had taken a fall and banged her head. Unconscious for two days, she finally snapped out of it.

Everyone was concerned for her, and perhaps because of it, her father asked Hoffman to make a painting of her. She sat for it. The painting, only 10” x 12”, shows her with a scar over her right eye. “Black Jack” could look at it on the wall even when she wasn’t there.

That painting today is for sale by the owner of the Wallace Gallery in East Hampton. It’s had an interesting history between when it was done and now, including a lawsuit filed by Bouvier Beale Jr., a cousin of Jackie’s and the executor of another estate in that extended family, who sued Terry Wallace for being in possession of what Beale believed were stolen goods.

That lawsuit was filed a year ago this month, and just because it was filed, there are those who believe it hurt Wallace’s reputation. But now, two weeks ago, the suit was dropped. Although Wallace cannot give details about it, the fact that he still has the painting and has it for sale speaks volumes. If he’d lost, he would not have it. His reputation is restored. He says he’d like to sell it now, preferably to an institution so people could see it. He thinks its value is probably in the six figures.

A young Jackie Bouvier leading her Pony
Young Jackie Bouvier leading her Pony, Photo by Bert Morgan, Courtesy Southampton Historical Museum

Jackie Bouvier grew up to be one of the youngest First Ladies of the United States. In her twenties, she married Jack Kennedy, who soon became a senator. When he became President in 1961, she was 31 years old and a great beauty, with the scar gone and long forgotten.

The painting, of course, took a different path. Jackie inherited the painting when her father died, and she eventually gave it to Theresa Shea, her riding instructor and head of the Riding Club. After Shea passed on, it went to her daughter, Theresa Maloney, the owner of Village Antiques in town at 11 Newtown Lane. By that time, Wallace had opened his gallery on Park Place in that town and he and Theresa Maloney became friends.

When Maloney died, Wallace told me, he approached her business partner Mildred Greenwald about buying the little painting. At first she wouldn’t sell it, but after he approached her numerous times, she finally agreed. She also gave photos in the antique shop’s possession of little Jackie on her horse to Wallace as a gift. Years later, Wallace gifted these photos to the East Hampton Historical Society, who made a show of them in 2017, which my wife and I saw. Because Wallace was required by the court to reveal the provenance of that painting as he knew it, he knew all these twists and turns by heart.

The lawsuit by Bouvier Beale Jr. filed a year ago came about in a parallel story.

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About the same time that “Black Jack” Beale was going through a divorce, another couple in this extended East Hampton summer society family split up. The father was an attorney, Phelan Beale. It was 1931, the Depression had hit and he was out of money. He simply left his wife and daughter in this great mansion on West End Avenue in East Hampton and went off. He had little or no further contact with them, except to make the divorce official 15 years later.

These two were respectively known in the family as Big Edie Beale and Little Edie. They continued to live in this house with the expectation that Phelan Beale might return, and when he didn’t, every day Big Edie talked to Little Edie bitterly about their circumstances.

As time passed, the house called “Grey Gardens” slowly deteriorated and left them to depend on the kindness of fellow family members. The porch sagged. The vines grew up everywhere. The house crumbled around them and they stayed, Little Edie wishing she could get out but always called to task by her mother for thinking those things and so never doing so.

Big and Little Edie lived this way for the next 30 years, by which time Big Edie was about 80 and her daughter about 55. They were stuck in time.

Edith Bouvier, "Big Edie" and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale, aka "Little Edie," at Grey Gardens
Edith Bouvier, “Big Edie” and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale, aka “Little Edie,” at Grey Gardens, Photo: Courtesy Criterion Collection

In 1974, a young man delivering groceries to the house reported back to his employers that the two women were living in squalor and were now accompanied by a dozen or so cats and perhaps a few raccoons. The market owner called the county health department, which threatened to declare place uninhabitable, but the women stayed.

Big and Little Edie and their home came to the attention of two New York City filmmakers, David and Albert Maysles, who pushed through the foliage and politely knocked on the door one day to be welcomed grandly by Little Edie after they told her they would like to make a documentary about her and her mother. Little Edie saw this as a way to become famous. Mother at first objected, but did nothing to stop them.

The documentary that resulted, Grey Gardens, was a sensation, was voted by film critics as one of the best 10 documentaries of all time, and was afterwards made into a movie starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore, and a musical on Broadway that was nominated for 10 Tony Awards and won three—including one of which was Christine Ebersole as Little Edie, and Mary Louise Wilson as Big Edie—as well as several books and, I believe, coloring books.

Jacqueline Bouvier by David Berne in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
Jacqueline Bouvier, 1935, by David Berne in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

During this period, at least up until the late 1960s, according to the lawsuit, the painting of Jackie Kennedy as a girl, their niece, was hanging on one of the walls inside Grey Gardens. People walked in and out of that house, workmen sent by the family, and a series of friends they had made in the East Hampton community. Somewhere along the line, the suit said, that painting disappeared.

And now it had turned up at the Wallace Gallery. A stolen painting, Bouvier Beale Jr. claimed, and he wanted the painting given back.

Terry Wallace, after the lawsuit was filed, told anybody who was interested that he believed this was not a stolen painting, but was as he had known it to have been handed down. He had been an art dealer for more than a quarter of a century and did not deal in stolen goods. He did say, however, that if it could be proven that it was stolen off the wall at Grey Gardens, or that it was stolen from anywhere else, he would return it to its rightful owner. Considering that the painting is likely worth in six figures, according to Wallace, this was quite something to say.

Big Edie died about two years after the documentary came out. Little Edie had to move out after that. She tried her hand as a cabaret singer, but it flopped. The clothes she wore, unfashionable but made interesting by the way she wore them, became a fad for a while. Eventually she returned to Grey Gardens alone, but then moved to Florida. She died at Bal Harbor at age 84.

Jackie Kennedy was in the car with her husband when he was shot in Dallas. After that she married the Greek billionaire Aristotle Onassis, and after he passed on she moved to New York City and worked as a book editor and an environmentalist. She was often seen jogging around the big reservoir in Central Park during this time. That reservoir, since her passing, was named for her.

Jackie was quite young to have been First Lady. But she wasn’t the youngest. The youngest was another East Hampton summer society girl, Julia Gardiner, who met President John Tyler at the age of 21 while his wife was sick and then married him two years later (and a year after his wife had died). She was 24 at the time. Many considered her the prettiest girl in the world. She instigated the practice of a small military band preceding her husband wherever he went into meetings, playing “Hail to the Chief” as he would enter a room. But all that is another story.

I don’t know if Trump follows that practice. I can think of reasons he would, and I can think of reasons he wouldn’t. Melania, very beautiful, is 48.

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