Leonard Maurer was a retiring man, a quiet man. He and his paintings did not attract an extraordinary amount of attention from the general public during his time. He did, however, have a number of close friends, students and admirers, and last night they gathered at the Phillips Collection to change the balance between public recognition and close, personal admiration.

"Len Maurer, being a very private person, might not have liked all this attention," said Marion Schlefer, chairman of the Leonard Maurer Charitable Trust. But, added another old-time friend and enthusiast, "collecting his works and indexing them was in the spirit of teaching others about his work and saving it for the future students. I think he would have liked that."

Maurer, who lived in Washington from 1945 until his death in 1976, came to art at a relatively late age, in his 40s, studied it, taught it and won a loyal coterie of friends along the way.

"Maurer was a friend of mine," said Wentworth Linebarger, an early collector who told an anecdote about leaving a couple of Maurers with his daughter for a period of five years while he was getting settled, and then discovering that they were impossible to pry away from her "once she had lived with them and they had grown on her."

"He would have had his effect on any community in which he lived," said Irving Wechsler, an old friend of Maurer's from Irvington, N.J., where the two grew up, and another trustee of the Maurer Charitable Trust, which was established to index his works before, in the words of chairman Schlefer, "they were lost."

The gathering at the opening of the retrospective, which will run through Oct. 14, was unusual, perhaps, in that all the guests were talking about the art and the man. And the man was unusual in Washington art circles, too, since, as one old friend noted, "he was probably the most literate and literary of Washington artists."

"Leonard illustrated many of my poems," said Ernest Kroll. And, added Kurt Wiener, who published the monograph that accompanies the exhibition, "his work represented the essence of poetry, drama and eloquence. He was interested in all of that."

Other Maurer retrospectives will be held at the Watkins Gallery of American University and the Franz Bader Gallery.