A TRIBUTE TO ROBERT H. SMITH
In the world of business, Robert H. Smith was known as one of the most successful and innovative real estate developers in the country. His crowning achievement was the building of Crystal City, an entirely self-sufficient metropolis in Arlington, Virginia. As a frequent visitor to the stylish Smith residence in recent years, I was always amazed by Bob's growing collection of Renaissance and Baroque bronzes. We would have lunch and then Bob would proudly show me his latest trove -- one day a magnificent Antico bronze and gilt Nymph; another, a peerless andiron Goddess by Alessandro Vittoria. What united the collection were Bob's impeccable taste and his relentless and unforgiving pursuit of quality. He assembled what is without doubt the most remarkable group of Renaissance and Baroque bronzes in the country with a particular emphasis on small bronzes by and after Giambologna, an achievement which is commemorated in two beautiful catalogues -- one authored by the late Anthony Radcliffe, the other by Nicholas Penny. In addition to its exceptional and sustained quality, the collection also testifies to another of Bob and his wife Clarice's great passions: philanthropy. Bob was the largest single donor to his Alma Mater, the University of Maryland, who named its business school for him and its performing arts center for Clarice, herself a widely exhibited artist. In an act of extraordinary generosity, Bob bequeathed his collection of bronzes to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, where they will be enjoyed by millions of visitors from around the world. Not only was Bob a tireless patron of these great American institutions, he was also an enthusiastic supporter of the Israel Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
I first met Bob when I was a director of Colnaghi. He was in the process of assembling an outstanding group of Venetian paintings, prints and drawings, and we had a rare genre painting by Marco Ricci depicting a musical performance, painted in England. We sent the painting to Washington and I followed in person a few days later. Bob had made up his mind with typical decisiveness and we agreed to terms. That painting was to form part of a group of eighteenth-century works, predominantly Venetian, which included beautiful examples by Canaletto, Guardi, Tiepolo and even two masterpieces by Panini. All were chosen with the same remarkable taste which had guided the collection of his previous passion: seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish art. As Bob became more immersed in the world of collecting, so too he chose to share his enthusiasm with his beloved National Gallery. How well I remember sitting next to him at a dinner -- to celebrate the opening of an exhibition Colnaghi had mounted to commemorate the bicentenary of the French Revolution -- when Bob was extolling the virtues of the National Gallery and the necessity of joining him in its support. Under Bob's ten-year tenure as president of the Gallery, the museum became one of the most dynamic and acquisitive museums in the world. So, it is only fitting that he should have left to the nation the fruits of his last great collecting passion, Renaissance and baroque Bronzes.
This sale, however, will show evidence of Bob's many interests, cultivated over many years with the enthusiastic support of Clarice and her discerning artist's eye. The remarkable works to be offered show us that Bob Smith lived a life in which civilization in all its manifestations touched him deeply. His devotion to the arts was a cornerstone of a remarkable life of business achievement, collecting, and philanthropy. The Robert H. and Clarice Smith Collection include lot 8, 37, 38 and 47 in this sale; lot 130 in The Art of France and lots 224-227 in Old Master Paintings Part II.
International Director, Old Masters & 19th Century Art
A CONNOISSEUR'S COLLECTION: PROPERTY OF ROBERT H. AND CLARICE SMITH