Monday, January 4, 2010

Robert H. Smith, President Emeritus


Robert H. Smith, President Emeritus of the National Gallery of Art passed away on Dec. 29, 2009. Georgetowners owe a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Smith for his generosity, connoisseurship and leadership throughout some four decades.

Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery of Art said that Robert Smith "carried on the Mellon tradition of stewardship and philanthropy in a way that will have a lasting impact on the Gallery—its collection, staff, scholars, and visitors—for generations to come. The Gallery extends its deepest sympathy to his wife Clarice, and to the members of his family, and to his wide circle
of friends and colleagues," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art.

In September 2003 Robert H. Smith stepped down as president and trustee of the National Gallery of Art after decades of distinguished service. He began his leadership role with the Gallery in 1982, when he became the first chair of the newly formed Trustees' Council, a
national advisory body to the Board of Trustees. In 1985 he joined the board as a general trustee upon the retirement of Paul Mellon, a founding benefactor of the Gallery, and in 1993 he succeeded John R. Stevenson as president.

Smith played a pivotal role in several major Gallery initiatives during his tenure on the Board of Trustees. After serving on the campaign committee for the Gallery's Patrons' Permanent Fund, in 1986 he became founding co-chair, with Katharine Graham, of The Circle, the Gallery's annual membership group. In 1991 he chaired the Gallery's Fiftieth Anniversary Gift Committee, a group of Washington business and community leaders who made major gifts to secure acquisitions for the Gallery. He also chaired the Gallery's New Century Fund campaign, which raised more than $123 million for a variety of private fundingpriorities.

During his tenure as president, he helped steer the Gallery through aperiod of substantial growth. The Dutch Cabinet Galleries, the Sculpture Garden, and the West Building ground floor SculptureGalleries opened under his watch. He provided a magnificent inaugural exhibition of Renaissance bronzes from his personal collection for the opening of the Sculpture Galleries in the fall of 2002.

Robert Smith and his wife Clarice are Benefactors of the Gallery and have given numerous gifts of art to the collection since 1972. On April 8, 2008, the National Gallery of Art announced that the Robert H. Smith Collection, one of the most important private holdings of Renaissance bronze sculpture, had been promised to the Gallery by Smith. The collection encapsulates the history of Renaissance bronze sculpture in Europe at a superior level. It also includes outstanding carvings in ivory and bronze.

The Smiths also supported Gallery exhibitions and initiatives, such as staff development and scholarly endeavors, including the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, as well as scientific and conservation research.

In 2006, at the twentieth anniversary celebration of The Circle, Smith remarked, "We are here to celebrate the great power of philanthropy. The course of human history is determined not by what happens in the skies, but by what takes place in the hearts of men and women. It is
important to know not only how to make a living, but also how to make a life. We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give."

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