"Dolores was a presence that filled the room she entered, no matter how big it was or crowded it may have been with other luminaries". This quote from a close friend that knew her from childhood is the best introduction I can think of for a brief description of Dolores Smithies, a great collector of Latin American art, but also a great community leader, a concerned social worker, and a loyal friend to those who were lucky to have met her and become her friend.
I met Dolores many years ago when she was very involved with Casita María, a wonderful charity that has helped out poor families in the Bronx for years and also doing charity work raising funds to help children afflicted with AIDS.
Dolores came from a patrician land owning family in Cuba, and had married very young Jean Jacques Boissier, moving with him to the Château de Vincy, Switzerland's largest château, right after the Revolution in Cuba. Her life in exile was very glamorous and she quickly took the spending part of every year in New York, and long sojurns at the Château, were she raised beautiful Grand Pyrenee dogs, or traveling around Europe which was her passion.
Dolores's enthusiasm as a collector was just as strong as the energy generously gave to her charity work. She had an uncanny abilit to buy interesting contemporary works before the artists became celebrated by the art press, an her taste in collecting the classical Latin American artists demonstrated a great sensbility and good taste. The late Giulio Blanc, a Cuban art critic and well-known scolar of Cuban art once told me that a conversation with Dolores about Cuban art was always a learning experience, because she was someone that had a true passion and natural instincts for collecting, and her decisions on collecting were guided by a sure instinct that the Surrealist artists would have admitted.
She favored early work by Botero, not the easiest topics but very expensive and religious pictures. She had a great understanding for the work of Lam, through her close friendship with Lidia Cabrera, a great Cuban writer of Santería, that had given Dolores a lot of insight into the syncretic religion of Afro-Cuban origin that is to this day the true religion of the masses and a great cultural force in Cuba. Dolores always pointed out how the painter's strange an mysterious imagery was always a source of wonder for her, and thought it was a great accomplishments for him to capture the difficult and often dual nature of the orishas, the Santería deities.
Amongst the early generation of Cuban painters her "Arlequín" was a legendary work by Mario Carreño that hung in her New York residence for years before it was sold for world record at auction. For Dolores understood that her collection itself was a working progress, and that in order for it to grow and develop she had to welcome changes and new additions. She combined these Latin works woth international artists that were of her interest such as Africa Salomé, and Edward Burra, all which were wothin her aesthetic parameters.
Dolores was also one of the first collectors to understand José Bedia's work. He along with the best artists of his generation had left Cuba in the early 90's and settled in Miami after spending two years living and working in Mexico. He did a special commission for her when he frescoed the entire reception area of her Biscayne residence. She also owned a large, important work that was prominently displayed at her Swiss chalet in Gstaad.
She will be missed by al the artist and friends she had cultivated in the Miami and New York communities as well as her many friends in Europe, both a great friend and an accomplished collector