Isabel S. Roberts, 94, historian, patron of arts

August 23, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Isabel S. Roberts, an art historian and patron of the arts, died of heart failure Aug. 16 at her Bolton Hill home. She was 94.

She was born Isabel Spaulding in San Francisco and spent her early years in Mexico and Cuba, where her father was a mining engineer. She later moved to Philadelphia and graduated from the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

After graduating from Vassar College in 1933, she moved to New York City, where she later became head of education at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. While working there, she met and married Laurance Page Roberts, a world-renowned Asian art scholar, in 1937.

The couple moved to Rome after World War II, when Mr. Roberts was named director of the American Academy, the only American overseas center for independent study and research in the arts and humanities.

"We were so lucky. We had a 17th-century villa to live in, Rome was full of enthusiasm after the fascist years. In film and art, Rome had taken the place of Paris, and it was a beehive of activity," she told The Sun at her husband's death in 2002.

After her husband resigned in 1960, they lived in New York City for a quarter-century and then bought a Bolton Hill rowhouse, where they entertained and became acquainted with many of the city's artists, writers, poets, musicians and architects.

"She lived in the old world of letters and was really a unique individual. She wore her hair up and beautiful clothes. There was an incredible European style about her," said Frederick Singley Koontz, a friend and Baltimore lawyer. "She was a very elegant, cosmopolitan and sophisticated lady, and from the 1950s through the 1980s knew everyone who was important in the arts."

"She was the doyenne of Baltimore's cultural life and knew most of the interesting people in the city. She really enriched the lives of those she met," said Diana Edwards Murnaghan, a writer and friend. "They were a duo and lived a Henry Jamesian type of life. For them, the essence of an evening was fine conversation."

Mrs. Roberts was fluent in French, Spanish, Italian and German, and was interested in Asian and European art history. She was a patron of the Walters Art Museum and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

She is survived by a cousin, Noel Solomon of Huntington Beach, Calif.

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