Peggy Bruce, 91, a well known Washington hostess whose home was familiar to artists and politicians, celebrities and unknowns for nearly a half-century, died of congestive heart failure Wednesday at her home here.
She was the widow of lawyer-collector-painter Edward Bruce.
It was in the Bruce home, with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins, Rexford Tugwell, Olin Dows and Forbes Watson present, that the Public Works of Art Program was born in Dec. 8, 1933.
Within three days the first Depression-era artists were on the federal payroll and by the following summer there were 3,000.
This early excursion of government into art, headed by Ned Bruce, placed paintings, murals and scupture in public buildings across the land and gave many celebrated artists their first commissions, among them Ben Shahn, Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning and William Gropper.
Vivacious and gregarious Peggy Bruce, as hostess for her husband, took such niceties of civilization as art, food, wine and travel seriously. She would be first in the markets on the mornings of her dinners.
She welcomed the repeal of prohibition "to stop us from wanting to be law-breakers," and because of Franklin D. Roosevelt, broke with her Republican family to become an active Democrat.
Born Margaret Stow on the family lemon ranch, La Patera, north of Santa Barbara, Calif., Mrs. Bruce was educated privately in California and New York. In New York, she met Bruce, her elder brother's closest Columbia University friend, and was told by him: "Some day when I make good, I'm going to marry you."
By 1909, Ned Bruce had "made good" as a lawyer in the Philippines, and also had kept up with her. After she had traveled across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, Bruce met her in Yokohama, Japan.There they were married, and began many years in the Orient, collecting Chinese landscape paintings that are now in Boston's Fogg Museum.
At 44, Bruce decided he had had enough law and business and that he would become a painter. The Bruces moved to Anticoli Corrando in Italy, where there were back-and-forth visits across the Arno valley with the Bernard Berensons.
By 1925, Ned Bruce had a successful New York showing of his paintings, followed by a Paris show in 1929. Further success came, and his works hang today in a number of museums.
The Bruces came to Washington in 1932. Mrs. Bruce's role in her husband's life became crucial, for in his final years he was confined to a wheelchair. She anticipated his needs to the extent of planning two luncheons daily to fit his guest lists without overcrowding. Usually the second luncheon guests didn't know there had been another luncheon two hours earlier.
Ned Bruce died in 1943. Mrs. Bruce continued over the years to keep her home open to their many artist friends.
"In art buying," Mrs. Bruce urged, "buy the living artist, help him or her. The dead famous ones will be taken care of by the dealers and museums."
In 1966, she presented her own collection of Washington artists to American University's Watkins Gallery. Among the artists was the group that had painted on the top floor of the Duncan Phillips home through the Depression and later formed the nucleus of the American University art department.
National Gallery Curator Lester Cooke once said of Mrs. Bruce: "She is one of the few people I know in the art world who is going to heaven."
There are no immediate survivors.