Inside Grace Kelly’s Secret Life As An Artist

By Mark Peikert

02 Feb 2022

There is a tendency to pin a celebrity down in the apex of their fame. For the general public, Grace Kelly remains eternally veiled in her Helen Rose wedding gown on April 19, 1956, poised to become a princess the moment she exchanges vows with Prince Rainier III of Monaco. As with all fairy tales, most are content to leave the story there, with the beautiful 26-year-old Oscar winner walking away from Hollywood to live happily ever after as a real-life princess. Only the tragic circumstances around her death—she suffered a stroke while driving at age 52, and died from her injuries—prevent the rosier version of Princess Grace’s life from remaining extant.

But 26 years is a fairly large gap, and though Princess Grace’s day-to-day is not as well-known as her film career, her style, her wedding, or her untimely death, she did more than simply preside over royal functions and smile at visiting dignitaries. Among other pursuits, Kelly narrated several documentaries, toured America with an evening of poetry reading to benefit the World Wildlife Fund, and served on the board of directors of the 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. She never again starred in another feature film—though she was offered roles in everything from Marnie to The Turning Point—but she also never abandoned the pursuit of new creative outlets. And as her comfort in Monaco grew, so too did her long dormant passion for flowers.

As Colette once wrote of Monaco, it is “a country whose borders are made of flowers,” and Princess Grace had loved flowers since her childhood in Philadelphia. In My Book of Flowers, published in 1980, she writes of a particularly memorable date at the Ritz in London, where she arrived for lunch to find her place at the table filled with every sort of bloom imaginable. “As I don’t know which is your favorite flower,” her date said, “please start throwing over your shoulder the ones you don’t like.”

As Monaco readied celebrations for the centennial of Monte Carlo in 1966, Princess Grace created the Monaco Flower Show, which quickly grew to become an annual international event that in turn led to the founding of the Garden Club of Monaco. It was there that she first became interested in the creation of pressed flower pictures, a hobby that would take her from the Monaco countryside to a solo exhibit at an art gallery in Paris to Springs Industries in South Carolina.

this new pastime as a melancholic one: The movie star whom Alfred Hitchcock once described as a “snow-covered volcano” reduced to gathering wildflowers on walks through her new country, then carefully pressing them in tissue paper between the pages of books for use later in detailed collages. Princess Grace herself seems wistful about the hobby in My Book of Flowers, writing, “Just sliding the flowers into place brings the same kind of tranquility as doing needlework, crocheting, or knitting. No wonder the Victorian ladies spent hours making pressed flower albums and pictures. As with gardening, time just slips by.”

But “it was a great way for her to express herself,” says Ann-Marie Albrechtson, of the Princess Grace Foundation. “She needed an artistic outlet, and so it was a passion that she was really good at. It’s never been the most exciting thing, but Taylor Swift at the 2021 Grammys wore a dress based off a modern pressed flower designer. It’s still around, and it’s still something people do.”

Certainly Princess Grace’s works are much more than just the relics of a different era’s spinsterhood, accomplished enough to warrant an exhibition in June 1977 at the Galerie Drouant in Paris. The show—with 46 individual works priced between $500 and $1,300—sold out, and in promotional materials Rene Huyghe wrote that the art shows “a sensitivity sure of its sources, a new imagination, simply in its means, trying to reconcile us with the world and ourselves.” That exhibit directly led to the launch, two years later, of a line of Princess Grace linens.

Springmaid’s “sheet stylist” Neil Mandell happened to see a People magazine article about Princess Grace’s Paris show, and promptly pitched the idea to his bosses (a bold move, considering he had bombed hard with his previous pitch: sheets based on Barry Manilow lyrics). That idea eventually transformed three of her designs into the lines Fiona (mimosa, heather, daisies, lantana, didiscus, buttercups, and a yellow butterfly), Tamora (autumnal brown leaves and Queen Anne’s lace), and Selia (jasmine branch, wisteria, prunus leaves, and butterflies). So bullish was the company on selling designs from Princess Grace—even while restrained from using her likeness to market them—that, for the first time, it branched out into tablecloths, placemats, and napkins, as well.

During a press conference to announce the launch of the line, a reporter questioned the princess regarding her financial remuneration. What, exactly, would happen to the money she made from this new merchandise?

Princess Grace looked directly at him and replied, “As Margot Fonteyn always said: ‘One shouldn’t discuss money with strangers.’” (The proceeds she eventually received went to various charities.)

The GPK line was discontinued upon the Princess’s death, and her late-in-life passion faded from memory, leaving just the films and the fairy-tale wedding in the popular imagination. Now, her son Prince Albert and the Princess Grace Foundation—founded by Prince Rainier III after her death—are looking to remind the public of everything for which the Princess stood. And her pressed flowers are an integral part of new luxury brand Grace de Monaco.

“Maybe people don’t know the details of how incredible she was as an artist, humanitarian, philanthropist. And the royal family wanted to take matters into their own hands to tell more of the story,” says Brisa Carleton, CEO of the Princess Grace Foundation-USA.

To that end, the new “luxury for good brand”— all proceeds benefit the Foundation and its charitable initiatives—recently launched the fragrance Promenade Sur Le Rocher Parfum, created by master perfumer Olivier Cresp. The scent is inspired by notes from Princess Grace’s favorite flowers while the packaging pays subtle tribute to her pressed flower art. And an upcoming line of scarves will be evocative of the art she spent so many hours in passionate pursuit of during her time in Monaco.

“Love of flowers has opened many doors for me,” Princess Grace wrote in My Book of Flowers. And now that love of flowers will continue to open doors for others.


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