A Portrait of a Princess: Sotheby’s New York

Sotheby’s New York hosts an unprecedented tribute to the life and legacy of Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco

By Stephanie Wilson/Photos Courtesy Sotheby’s


 It is most fitting that this celebration of Princess Grace’s legacy will culminate in this extraordinary night at Sotheby’s.”

Never before and never since has a young woman led such a blessed life as the memorable Grace Kelly. From Hollywood royalty to actual royalty, Grace Kelly captured the hearts of nearly everyone in the world with her sophistication, poise, and, well, grace.

Although 25 years have lapsed since the too-soon passing of this icon, the legend that was her life still intrigues and inspires women and men alike around the globe. And so, from October 15 to 26, 2007, the Consulate General of Monaco and the Monaco Government Tourist Office in New York with Sotheby’s, in close collaboration with the Princely Palace and the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, will present a tribute exhibition celebrating the life and legacy of Princess Grace of Monaco.

The remarkable life of Grace Patricia Kelly began November 12, 1929, when she was born to Philadelphia society figures. She went on to graduate from the American Academy of Dramatic Art before heading out to Hollywood, where she immediately made a splash with her work in films Fourteen Hours, High Noon, and Magambo where she starred opposite some of the biggest names in Hollywood at that time. It wasn’t but five years before she also attracted the attention of Prince Rainier III of Monaco, whom she wed on April 18, 1956, transforming her into Princess of Monaco.

“Sotheby’s is honored to host Grace, Princess of Monaco: A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of Grace Kelly in New York this October,” says James G. Niven, Vice Chairman of Sotheby’s and son of legendary actor David Niven. And honored they should be. The exhibition, free and open to the public at Sotheby’s New York, will feature dresses, jewelry, photographs, letters, video, and other unique items that offer a glimpse at the glamorous personal life of an international icon. Niven says, “Grace Kelly was a great friend of my father’s from her days as an actress in Hollywood to her reign as Princess of Monaco. She took me under her wing when we lived in France, and I was lucky enough to be invited to Palace events as a young man and experience the world she inhabited first-hand. The pieces selected for this exhibition highlight her great beauty and style for which she is so well-known, and her personal letters and correspondence show that she was open, friendly, interesting, and had a great sense of humor.”

In addition to her princess status, and likely enhanced because of it, Grace Kelly was a style icon. A selection of her gowns, outfits, jewelry, and accessories will be included in the exhibition, including the blue satin column dress and cloak Kelly wore in March 1955 to accept an Oscar for her role in The Country Girl. Of course, the outfit she was wearing at Cannes when she met Prince Rainier III of Monaco-a taffeta dress with floral motif-is also included.

So iconic were her styles, they even garnered names that bring an image to mind still today. “To catch a Prince,” the beige, silk shirtwaist dress by Branell, New York, which Kelly wore when she and Prince Rainier announced their engagement in Philadelphia, will be on display, as well as a rectangular crocodile Hermès bag known worldwide as the “Kelly Bag” ever since the princess appeared on the cover of Life magazine using the bag to hide her pregnancy.

Also included in the exhibition is the 10.47-carat emerald cut diamond set with two baguette diamonds-the stunning engagement ring given by Prince Rainier-as well as a tiara belonging to Princess Grace that was worn by Princess Caroline on the cover of the April 1986 Life magazine. Many of the spectacular relics from the blessed life of the princess on display have never before been seen outside of Monaco, including personal letters from family, Hollywood friends like Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Sinatra, and handwritten speeches, which further enhance the personal and intimate feel of the exhibition.

On October 24, 2007, Sotheby’s will transform into a high-stakes casino for a star-studded night to benefit the Princess Grace Foundation-USA, thanks to the help of Steve and Elaine Wynn of the Wynn Las Vegas. They will be joined by the Société des Bains de Mer Hotels, Spas, & Casinos for a night that will benefit the Princess Grace Foundation-USA. The evening will include bidding on Grace Kelly-inspired outfits created by some favorite American designers. Prior to the evening, the dresses will be on display at Saks Fifth Avenue from October 22 to 26. For those unable to make the evening event, bidding will also be available via phone. Also in honor of the week, Estée Lauder Inc. will be offering a limited edition shade of lipstick sold exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue to pay tribute to the princess.

The following night provides the climax of the weeklong event, with the Princess Grace Foundation-USA hosting the annual Princess Grace Awards Gala at Sotheby’s New York. Over the course of the past 25 years, the Princess Grace Foundation-USA has awarded more than $5 million to support continued excellence in the arts. HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco and TRH The Prince and Princess of Hanover will both be in attendance at this year’s Gala. On that evening, two of Grace Kelly’s outfits will be auctioned: a Givenchy-designed sleeveless shirt with a matching fringed bolero jacket in vivid green, worn on an official 1961 visit with Prince Rainier to lunch at the White House with President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy; and a Helen Rose ball gown worn by Grace Kelly in the 1956 musical comedy High Society.

“This year’s Gala is truly special,” says Hon. John F. Lehman, Princess Grace Foundation USA-chairman. “The past 25 years of supporting emerging artists has made an indelible mark on the performing arts in this country. It is most fitting that this celebration of Princess Grace’s legacy will culminate in this extraordinary night at Sotheby’s.” With the honoring of Grace with such an elaborate and sophisticated week of exhibitions, celebrations, and auctions, it is ensured that the princess’ legacy will continue to reign supreme for another 25 years.