Elvine R. King, 83, a daring minimalist sculptor and inspiring art teacher who went professionally by the name V.V. Rankine, died June 22 of a heart attack at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney. She had lived in the District for more than 50 years before moving two years ago to Arbor Place, an assisted living facility in Rockville.
Trained as a painter, Mrs. King turned to sculpture in the early 1950s, working in abstract and minimalist forms until the 1990s. In 1982, Washington Post critic Jo Ann Lewis described her as "a Washington artist who has not quite had her due in this city."
If she never quite received the acclaim many thought she deserved, she nevertheless had a long and solid career, regularly showing her work at the country's leading galleries of modern art, including the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York and the Jefferson Place and Barbara Fiedler galleries in Washington. Her work was also featured in exhibitions at the Corcoran Museum of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
She also had a distinguished teaching career, beginning with a drawing class in a studio in an alley behind St. Matthew's Catholic Church in the District. From 1967 to 1970, she taught at the Madeira School in McLean before moving to New York, where she taught at Hunter College. After returning to Washington in 1973, she was on the faculty at the University of Maryland until the late 1980s.
"She was such an enthusiastic, gifted, extraordinarily subtle teacher," said Anne Truitt, an artist and writer who studied drawing with Mrs. King. Her drawing technique was simple and classical, far removed from the abstract nature of her sculpture.
Mrs. King was known for her charismatic personality and her gift for friendship. For her entire life, she seemed to be at the center of a remarkable network of people, inspiring both friendship and loyalty. Her friends included such renowned art-world figures as Willem de Kooning, Clement Greenberg, Robert Motherwell and Kenneth Noland. Her sister-in-law from her first marriage was married to the Armenian-born abstract expressionist painter Arshile Gorky.
Mrs. King lived in Washington three times -- in the early 1940s, from 1950 to 1970 and from 1973 to her death -- and was renowned for her glittering dinner parties that brought the illuminati of the art world together with leaders of the city's legal, diplomatic and literary circles.
"It's hard to distill a life of warmth and color into a few sentences," Truitt said. "If you had to reduce it to one term, she was a catalytic agent. V.V. came down here and brought a worldly air to this city."
She was born in Boston, where she was raised in part by her grandmother, who was in her nineties and had known Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Singer Sargent and the art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner. Her mother's closest friend was Frances Perkins, the first woman to hold a U.S. Cabinet position.
If not for an episode of parental disapproval, the young Elvine Richard might have had a career in the theater rather than art. In the late 1930s, Katharine Hepburn saw her at a skating rink in New York and asked her to play the part of the younger sister in the Broadway production of "The Philadelphia Story." Mrs. King's mother and great-aunt refused to give their permission.
In the early 1940s, Mrs. King moved to Washington and worked for an underground organization that promoted Israeli independence. While here, she studied at the Phillips Collection's art school. From 1944 to 1946, she studied painting in New York with the artist Amedee Ozenfant. In 1947 and '48, she was a student at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, an experimental school that had many of the leading artists as either students or teachers. She studied painting with Josef Albers and de Kooning, and her classmates included Noland, Robert Rauschenberg and the film director Arthur Penn.
Mrs. King's marriages to John H. Magruder and Paul Scott Rankine ended in divorce.
Her husband of 26 years, Rufus G. King, died in 1999.
Survivors include a son from her first marriage, John H. Magruder Jr. of Dover, Mass.; a son from her second marriage, David S. Rankine of Reno, Nev.; a stepson, Rufus G. King III of Washington, chief judge of the D.C. Superior Court; a stepdaughter, Sheridan King Peyton of Three Rivers, Calif.; a brother; and four grandchildren.