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Olga Hirshhorn and The Art of Living

Olga Hirshhorn and The Art of Living

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Now we strolled among some of the famous works that were once household fixtures to her.

"Oh look," she exclaimed, "this portrait bust of Madame Renoir; that was in our dining room, I remember exactly where . . . And there's the Rodin, the Man With the Broken Nose; it was upstairs in our Greenwich house. Oh, and there's that Picasso head of a jester; Joe had two of these, one on our mantel and one in the museum.

"We had a big Rodin in the garden at Greenwich. It was a long house, with a long, narrow entrance gallery. And a huge Maillol nude at the front door with her hands outstretched; in the winter she seemed to hold two snowballs. It's really kind of fun to see all these things here."

Carefully checking a large Rodin work, she wonders if those splotches could be bronze disease. "I've learned to look for that," she says. "I was so much aware of it when these pieces were in our garden."

The garden. That would be at the Greenwich house. There was also the place in Cap d'Antibes on the French Riviera, where they hung out with painter Marc Chagall, Matisse's son, Pierre, Giacometti, Miró and the Picassos . . . the real-life Picassos, not the paintings. "Picasso gave me a fine ceramic tile he had done with a picture of Jacqueline on it. We knew them the last ten years of his life, and I resent what the new books say about him being an awful person. Jacqueline couldn't live without him."

Joseph Hirshhorn didn't speak French, but he got along just fine with the great artist. There is a picture of Picasso clowning around in Hirshhorn's jacket and tie, and once the painter put his magic signature on a dress that Jacqueline had made for Olga.

Today, Olga resides in Naples, Florida. She spends a month each spring and fall in her tiny "Mouse House," as she calls it, in Washington, absolutely crammed with paintings and sculpture--to be precise, 176 pieces ranging from Picassos, de Koonings, O'Keeffes, Giacomettis and Nevelsons to an oil by the senior Robert De Niro.

In January she visits Cuba, in affiliation with the Center for Cuban Studies in New York. She summers at Martha's Vineyard in a place she bought after Joe's death.

In October she travels. Last year it was a Smithsonian tour of Eastern Europe, and before that a rented house in Italy ("these wonderful people took care of me because I was alone"), and before that Russia ("I broke my wrist dancing in Leningrad") and Portugal. She is looking at Sicily now.

Travel was a major part of life with Joe Hirshhorn. A restless soul, he fought all his life for recognition, and he knew it was the art that would bring it. She was with him when he was courted for his collection by the Arts Council of England, Nelson Rockefeller, the governor-general of Canada and the mayor of Jerusalem.

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