The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Clarice Smith, artist and D.C. philanthropist, dies at 88

Clarice Smith with one of her paintings in 1996. (John T. Consoli/University of Maryland)

Clarice Smith, an artist whose paintings have been exhibited around the world and who, with her late husband, donated hundreds of millions of dollars to educational and cultural organizations, primarily in the Washington region, died Dec. 9 at her home in Arlington, Va. She was 88.

The death was confirmed by her son, David Bruce Smith, who declined to cite a specific cause.

Mrs. Smith had a career of more than four decades as an artist, working primarily in a traditional representational style. With painters James McNeil Whistler, Edouard Manet and John Singer Sargent as her artistic models, she painted portraits, still-life arrangements, landscapes and scenes of horse racing and golf. She also created works in stained glass.

“I paint the scenes of my life,” Mrs. Smith told GW Today in 2013, when an exhibition of her work opened at George Washington University’s Luther W. Brady Art Gallery. “I’m not interested in just painting a pretty flower — I want to invoke a memory or a feeling.”

She had solo exhibitions at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and the Kreeger Museum in Washington, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the New-York Historical Society and in New York, London, Paris, Zurich and Jerusalem. One of her paintings is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

In 2014, some of her equestrian paintings were displayed at the National Sporting Library & Museum in Middleburg, Va.

“I’m not at all horsey,” Mrs. Smith told Middleburg Life magazine at the time, confessing that she hadn’t ridden in 30 years and that she had an allergy to horses. She also illustrated several historical books for young adults written by her son.

Mrs. Smith was perhaps best known for the far-reaching philanthropical work that she and her husband, the late Robert H. Smith, undertook. Her husband, a wealthy real estate developer and University of Maryland graduate, gave an estimated $100 million to his alma mater.

A $15 million donation led to the construction of the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, which opened on the university’s College Park campus in 2001. It has six performance venues and is known by students and faculty as “The Clarice.”

Through a family foundation, Mrs. Smith also supported U-Md. scholarships, professorships and the development of a library dedicated to the performing arts. In an online obituary, the university’s president, Darryll J. Pines, called her “an unparalleled champion for the arts.”

Mrs. Smith also had a long association with GWU, which she attended in the 1970s at the same time her sons were enrolled. She received a bachelor’s degree in 1976 and a master of fine arts degree in 1979. She taught painting and drawing at the university from 1980 to 1987.

She and her husband supported numerous cultural programs at GWU, student aid efforts, academic programs and other projects. An art exhibition space at the university is named in their honor.

Mrs. Smith received an honorary doctorate from GWU in 2012 and another from U-Md. in 2015.

She and her husband were noted art collectors and donated many paintings and drawings to the National Gallery of Art. Their collection of Renaissance bronze sculpture, called one of the finest in the world, is slated to be given to the gallery. Mrs. Smith was also a member of National Gallery fundraising and membership groups.

“Her generosity was focused primarily on the humanities,” her son said, noting that she helped underwrite lectures on opera at the Kennedy Center and programs at Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre.

She also contributed to Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Johns Hopkins University’s Wilmer Eye Institute and the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Md., named after her husband’s father.

Clarice Rae Chasen was born Jan. 16, 1933, in Washington. Her parents had a grocery store and later were involved in real estate.

She attended the University of Maryland before marrying her husband in 1952. With a brother-in-law, Robert P. Kogod, Robert Smith ran the Charles E. Smith companies, which developed the Crystal City area of Arlington and became the largest single property owner in the Washington region.

Mrs. Smith lived in Crystal City and on a 500-acre farm in Upperville, Va., called Heronwood, which contained an 18-hole golf course. She and her husband donated land for the annual Upperville Colt & Horse Show.

Her husband died in 2009 after 57 years of marriage. Two children, Steven Smith and Michelle Smith, died in 2003 and 2020, respectively.

Survivors include her son, David Bruce Smith of Bethesda, Md.; a brother, Dr. Gerald Chasen of Potomac, Md.; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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