Benesch, drawings he collected now enrich Baltimore Art Museum

E. M.

June 24, 1994|By DeWitt Bliss | DeWitt Bliss,Sun Staff Writer

Edward M. Benesch, a Baltimore native who donated drawings he and his wife collected to the Baltimore Museum of Art and had a gallery built to house the collection, died June 18 of heart failure at a hospital in New York City. He was 82.

Mr. Benesch, an interior designer, had lived in New York since 1959. He was a member of the BMA board from 1946 until 1974, and had been an honorary trustee for the past 20 years.

In 1961, he and his wife, the former Vivian Berman, established the Thomas Edward Benesch Memorial Collection of drawings in honor of their son who had been killed in an automobile accident at the age of 18. After the death of Mrs. Benesch in 1969, he donated a gallery named for her to house the collection and other works.

The collection and gallery are now moving to larger quarters at the museum.

Mr. Benesch added to the collection regularly, making periodic tours of New York art dealers with curators, looking for new drawings.

Jay Fisher, the museum's curator of prints, drawings and photographs, described Mr. Benesch as a "remarkably generous and energetic man."

Mr. Fisher said the collection is "one of the most important collections of contemporary drawings in any American museum. It is a tribute to his tremendous knowledge of contemporary art and to his tremendous good taste."

Mr. Benesch not only knew the "major figures of the time but had more unusual interests such as Spanish realists," the curator said. As a result, he said, the collection includes one of the few groups of such work in any American museum.

Mr. Fisher noted Mr. Benesch's ability to select the works of young artists who were not yet fully established. He cited a drawing by Jasper Johns that Mr. Benesch bought in the 1960s when the artist was relatively unknown.

Jack Lenor Larsen, a fabric designer, described Mr. Benesch as "the dean of American interior designers."

"He was perhaps the most civilized man I ever met," Mr. Larsen said, praising Mr. Benesch's elegance, common sense and consideration for others. "He taught me civilization."

He decorated private homes in the United States and abroad. His design work included the Green Room of Avery Fisher Hall in New York's Lincoln Center, and several rooms at the BMA, including an early home for the Cone Collection, the gallery named for his wife and the museum cafe that was in use from 1959 until 1980.

Born in Baltimore, he was a graduate of the Park School. He studied piano at the Peabody Institute and attended the University of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

For many years, he was associated with a family-owned retail furniture company, Gomprecht and Benesch. He introduced European designer furniture to customers and used part of the company's building, located in the 300 block of N. Eutaw St., as an art gallery.

In 1958 and 1959 at the store, he showed works from New York art galleries.

In 1959, he left Baltimore for New York to become vice president and merchandising manager of the eastern division of W. & J. Sloane, a furniture store chain. In the early 1960s, he opened his own design firm.

Mr. Benesch also served on the boards of the Park School and the Young Concert Artists Series.

He is survived by his daughter, Eve Benesch Goldschmidt of New York; and two granddaughters.

Private services were planned.

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