Andre Malraux had been described as a 20th-century cultural legend. He had once said, "Life is like a marketplace where one buys values, not with money but with acts…" In December 1962, in what had been hailed as "an historic loan", the Leonardo da Vinci's 1506 painting of the Mona Lisa, left the Louvre Museum in Paris for 3 months for showing in the United States at the West Statuary Hall at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 

Mona Lisa was an unknown Italian woman who married into money. Her husband was the Florentine well-to-do Francesco Del Giocondo. Mona Lisa was 25 when Leonardo da Vinci painted the famous portrait. It was noted the Mona Lisa was the second lady the people of France had sent to the United States. The first being the Statue of Liberty. 

Jack Kennedy told the press, "This incomparable masterpiece, the work of one of the greatest figures of the western age of creativity, will come to this country as a reminder of the friendship that exists between France and the United States." Andre Malraux wanted to pay "tribute to the American soliders who saved the Mona Lisa (for civilized man) – and all of France, as well – in two (world) wars." 

Back in May 1962, Jack and Jackie hosted a state dinner at the White House in honor of Andre Malraux. The dinner featured a "French-accented menu". Jackie told Andre Malraux that she would love to see the Mona Lisa in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Andre Malraux promised Jackie he would see that the Mona Lisa be displayed in the United States. 

Jack told Andre Malraux, "We in the United States are grateful for this loan from the leading artistic power in the world, France. In view of the recent meeting at Nassau (in the Bahamas), I must note further that this painting has been kept under careful French control, and that France has even sent along its own commander-in-chief – M. Malraux." At the time Charles de Gaulle insisted on building his own independent force including nuclear armaments. Andre Malraux said that through Jack Kennedy, "the world's most powerful nation pays today (in January 1963) the most brilliant homage a work of art has ever received."

In May 1962, some 165 "creative thinkers" attended the state dinner at the White House, the place at the time "is becoming a sort of eating place for artists." Jack paid tribute, "One of the great myths of American life is that nothing is pleasanter or easier than lying around all day and painting a picture or writing a book. In my opinion, the ultimate in self-discipline is a creative work. Those of us who work in an office every day are actually the real gentle livers of American society." 

The guests attended the dinner included Julie Harris, Arthur Miller, Paddy Chayefsky, Tennessee Williams, Agnes De Millee, George Balanchine, Geraldine Page, Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, John Hersey, Robert Penn Warren, Irwin Shaw and Thomas Lowell Jr. "They really know what's going on," Manning Gurian remarked.

The Mona Lisa painting was insured for $100,000,000. One observer made a wisecrack at the time (in 1963), "A hundred million dollars could bankrupt Lloyds of London. And with the British economy on the precarious state that it's in, that could bring England to the abyss. (Harold) Macmillan would have no bargaining power left. He'd have to bring England into the Common Market, at any cost – no matter what price de Gaulle asks."

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