The many friends and admirers the world over who greatly respected Gerald van der Kemp for the great man he was and who loved him dearly for his humanity and kindness are mourning him today. Gerald died on Dec. 28 at the American Hospital in Paris at the age of 89. Even though he had been in and out of hospitals for many years, his health precarious, his American-born wife, Florence, always at his side, the unexpected news is still heart-rending.
Gerald van der Kemp was buried in the small cemetery in Giverny next to the great artist Claude Monet, whose home Giverny was and where Gerald was the curator for many years. On Jan. 28, one month from his death, there will be a Requiem Mass said for him in the Chapelle Royale at Versailles. It will be by invitation only.
Van der Kemp was a giant in size, in intellect, in courage, in personality and in dazzling charm. He was always the quintessence of elegance, gallantry and grace — boutonniere in lapel. As France’s conservateur en chef during World War II, he saved many treasures of the Louvre, including the “Mona Lisa,” from being burned by the Nazis. Honors were heaped on him. He was a member of the Institut de France, a commander of the Legion of Honor, a commander of Arts and Letters, a grand officer of the Sovereign Order of Malta and many others.
Speaking at his funeral, his beloved stepdaughter, Barbara de Portago, remembered the loving marriage of her mother and Gerald. Their energy, she said, was devoted toward what her mother felt coursed through Gerald’s veins: the love and history of la belle France. His distinguished service to the country throughout his long curatorship at the Palace of Versailles — during which many treasures and rooms, including the Grand Trianon, the Chambre du Roi, the Galerie des Glaces, the apartments of the Queen and the Petit Trianon were magnificently restored — will always be remembered. He and Florence entertained brilliantly there, personally introducing many to the palace’s glories. His remarkable influence as a cultural force majeur cannot be exaggerated, but how I remember him best, this dear friend, is as a darling, darling man.
Good news from Buckingham Palace. The teeny little problem that has kept Rudolph Giuliani from flying to London to receive his honorary knighthood from the Queen has been cleared up. It seems that palace officials were concerned on how to handle the fact that Rudy wants to bring Judi Nathan with him to London when there still is an undivorced Mrs. Giuliani around. That minor breach in what you might call protocol has now been neatly handled, so look for a “Sir Rudy” soon. Not that we need that to remind us he’s already an American knight in shining armor.
The Prince of Wales is planning his vacation skiing trip to Klosters in Switzerland with his two boys, but the big exciting news is that for the first time in years, he will have a new pair of ski boots. Not that he really wanted to — you know how fellows love their comfy, broken-in things — but the old pair finally fell apart, so he was forced into new ones for which he has been fitted. Don’t count on a new ski suit however. Prince Charles is ever so loyal to the charcoal gray he has worn for the last seven years. So unless Donatella Versace horns in, he’s jolly well going to wear it again this year. If you’re wondering what Camilla Parker Bowles will be wearing, don’t. She prefers to ride out on her horse rather than tackle the slopes. She’ll keep the home fires burning at Highgrove while the boys bond in the Alps.
Meanwhile, 17-year-old Prince Harry has passed his driving test and all’s right with the world. It was his first go at it, hewing to the family tradition British royals have of passing theirs on the first try. Except for Queen Elizabeth, who never had to take one — being the queen and all. Actually, Harry’s been driving since he was 12, when Tiggy Legge Bourke, who nannied him for years, let him take a spin in daddy’s Range Rover on the grounds of Balmoral (there were those who thought she shouldn’t have). Harry’s hoping for a Mini he saw in a James Bond movie. Not yet, kid.
Designing Jackie Rogers is always in the fast lane. She just finished doing those absolutely exclusive things for Countess Willie Salm — she’s the daughter-in-law of the legendarily best-dressed Millicent Rogers (Jackie’s not related) — and for Countess Willie’s daughter, Countess Antonia Salm. Now the various countesses are off to Gstaad to join Count Ludwig Salm in his chalet, where they’ll fun and frolic in Jackie’s apres-sport creations — she calls them inseparables — designed exclusively for them, of course. Jackie, once Coco Chanel’s muse, has at one time or another also dressed Jackie Onassis, Lee Radziwill and Babe Paley, so countesses and their ilk are right down her alley.