Jane B. Meyerhoff, 80, a renowned Baltimore art collector and philanthropist who, with her husband, was one of the most significant contributors of post-World War II American paintings to the National Gallery of Art, died Oct. 16 at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore of complications following heart surgery.
The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection with more than 100 works valued at more than $300 million is considered one of the world's finest private collections of 20th-century art by American and European painters of abstract expressionism and succeeding art movements. It includes works by such luminaries of the art world as Willem de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella and Brice Marden.
In 1987, a year after the Meyerhoffs provided funding for the National Gallery to purchase "Stations of the Cross," a series of 14 abstract paintings by Barnett Newman, the couple announced that they were making their entire art collection a promised gift to the National Gallery.
The gift will make it the largest single donation to that institution after those of Andrew W. Mellon and the founding benefactors.
Since the announcement, more than 40 paintings from the Meyerhoff Collection -- including de Kooning's "Two Women" -- have been donated and displayed at the National Gallery. In 1996, the National Gallery held what was a popular exhibit of paintings from the Meyerhoff Collection in the East Building's concourse galleries.
"Jane Meyerhoff was a discerning collector who held high aesthetic standards and was relentless in her pursuit of knowledge about art," said Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery, adding that she and her husband had formed close relationships with the artists whose work they collected.
Mrs. Meyerhoff was a Baltimore native who knew her husband, a real estate developer, since childhood. She graduated from Goucher College in 1945 with a degree in history. Her interest in art was aroused when she took a correspondence course in color theory while convalescing from polio in 1954. She soon recovered, but when her father, Harry Bernstein, who owned a coat manufacturing company, died a short time later, she set out to find a way to honor his memory.
She approached the Baltimore Museum of Art with the idea of purchasing several pieces of art for the museum in her father's name. With that in mind, she traveled to New York with staff members of the Baltimore Museum, and it was there that she was introduced to the then-burgeoning art movement known as abstract expressionism.
Displaying a keen eye for art, Mrs. Meyerhoff bought several paintings, including the first of her private collection, Hans Hoffmann's "Autumn Gold." From that single painting, she once wrote, she learned "how the manipulation of color can energize a two-dimensional surface."
She delicately displayed her collection, first in her Baltimore home and later at her 300-acre estate in Phoenix, Md., where her husband raised thoroughbreds. She doted over the paintings like a mother caring for her children, said her daughter, Rose Ellen Greene.
Still, there was much more to Mrs. Meyerhoff than her passion for her art, Greene said. Concerned about the scarcity of African Americans earning advanced degrees in the sciences, Mrs. Meyerhoff and her husband established in 1989 a scholars program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to provide financial assistance to minority students pursuing graduate-level courses in math, science and engineering.
In addition to her husband and daughter, of Coral Gables, Fla., survivors include two sons, Neil A. Meyerhoff and Dr. John O. Meyerhoff, both of Baltimore; a sister; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.