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December 13, 2021

Clarice Smith Benefactor, National Gallery of Art - January 16, 1933–December 9, 2021

Clarice and Robert H. (Bob) Smith. Photo © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Clarice and Robert H. (Bob) Smith. Photo © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington

Washington, DC—The National Gallery of Art mourns the loss of longtime benefactor Clarice Smith, who passed away on December 9 of natural causes. Clarice and her husband, Robert H. Smith (Bob), were involved with the National Gallery of Art for more than 50 years. Their support ranged from monumental gifts of art and funding of conservation initiatives to leading the museum board and spearheading the development of several donor groups.

“We are deeply saddened with the passing of Clarice Smith, one of the most generous supporters in the history of the National Gallery of Art. Clarice, her husband Bob, and their family showed incredible dedication to the museum over several decades. Their stewardship in building the collection, promoting scholarship, and bringing to life our mission was remarkable. We extend our sympathies to their family on the occasion of this profound loss for them, for the National Gallery, and for the many other great cultural organizations that have benefited from their unfailing generosity,” said Kaywin Feldman, the director of the National Gallery of Art.

The Smiths have given numerous works of art to the National Gallery since 1972. Highlights include drawings by such masters as François Boucher, Canaletto, Thomas Gainsborough, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, and Pablo Picasso, and several exquisite paintings by 17th-century Dutch and Flemish artists, including Nicolaes Berchem, Peter Binoit, Roelandt Savery, and David Teniers. The Smiths promised the exquisite trompe l’oeil painting by Cornelis Gijsbrechts, _A Hanging Wall Pouch_ (1677).

In 2008, Bob and Clarice promised the Robert H. Smith Collection, which is among the most important privately owned holdings of Renaissance bronze sculpture in the world. The collection, assembled over three decades, consists of 79 bronzes, five boxwood carvings by the master artist Leonhard Kern, and three ivory sculptures. Among the treasures in this collection are the gilded bronze Seated Nymph by Antico; numerous works by Giambologna and his followers, Antonio Susini and Gianfrancesco Susini; and masterpieces from Venice, such as Vittoria’s signed _Minerva_, Bandinelli’s _Neptune_, and several allegorical figures by Roccatagliata. The collection was on view in _Renaissance Bronzes from the Robert H. Smith Collection_ (2002) on the occasion of the opening of the newly renovated Ground Floor Sculpture Galleries and again in _Bronze and Boxwood: Renaissance Masterpieces from the Robert H. Smith Collection_ (2008). The exhibition _Antico: The Golden Age of Renaissance Bronzes_ (2011) was supported by the Smith Family Foundation and dedicated to the memory of Bob Smith, in the year after his death.

Since 2004, the Smiths have supported the National Gallery as a premier center for the study and analysis of bronze sculpture. With this funding, novel methods of technical investigation have been developed resulting in expertise now sought by museums and art communities across the globe. The position of Robert H. Smith Research Conservator in Bronze Conservation focuses on this groundbreaking research at the National Gallery of Art.

The Smiths’ generosity has been fundamental to the well-being of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts. For decades, the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Fellowship has forwarded doctoral research on early modern art in northern Europe. Other support over the years has advanced art historical knowledge through symposia and publications.

The Robert H. Smith Research Fellowship Program for National Gallery Staff (1988–2010) provided unique opportunities for National Gallery staff to research or work on a topic entirely different from their professional duties or to delve even more deeply into a museum-related project.

Bob and Clarice were regularly involved in National Gallery stewardship through many periods in the museum’s history. Bob Smith served on the board of trustees from 1985 to 2003 and was president of the National Gallery from 1993 to 2003. He was also the founding chair of the Trustees’ Council, which was established in 1982. Their late daughter, Michelle Smith, also served on the Trustees’ Council (2003–2020). After serving on the campaign committee for the National Gallery's Patrons' Permanent Fund, in 1986 Bob became founding co-chair, with Katharine Graham, of the Circle, the National Gallery's annual membership group. Clarice was a member of the Circle from its founding and the Legacy Circle. The Robert H. Smith Family Foundation, of which Clarice was a trustee, made a significant gift to the Mellon Match campaign (2016–2021) for digital initiatives.

A native of Washington DC, Clarice Smith was a painter, who worked professionally for more than 40 years. Her paintings were featured in solo and group exhibitions at galleries and museums in the United States, Europe, and Israel. She attended the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design and the University of Maryland, where she was awarded a Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2015. She received a BA and MFA from George Washington University, where she also served as a member of the art department faculty from 1980 to 1987.

Smith is survived by her son David Bruce Smith, four grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

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