Olga Hirshhorn, Art Collector and Wife of Museum Founder, Dead at 95

Hirshhorn was a friend of de Kooning and Picasso.

Olga Hirshhorn.
Image: www.gulfshorelife.com.
Olga Hirshhorn. Photo: Mark Alan Lovewell.

Olga Hirshhorn.
Photo: Courtesy of Mark Alan Lovewell.

Olga Hirshhorn, an art collector, philanthropist, and widow of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden founder Joseph Hirshhorn, died on October 3 at her home in Naples, Florida at the age of 95, the Washington Post reports.

Her death was confirmed by her son John Cunningham Jr., a sculptor and Skidmore College professor.

Hirshhorn, who was born in 1920, was the fourth wife of financier, philanthropist, and mining tycoon Joseph Hirshhorn, who gifted almost 6,000 artworks to open their eponymous museum on the National Mall in 1974.

Olga Hirshhorn was born Olga Zatorsky, the youngest child of Ukrainian immigrants who settled in Greenwich, Connecticut.

She met Joseph when she was 41 and he 62. He began calling the employment agency she ran, seeking a cook, then a maid, then another maid. Finally, he asked her how old she was, and later how tall. After they had dated for a while, he told her “if you lose ten pounds, I’ll marry you.”

“I took a month to take it off,” Hirshhorn told Smithsonian magazine in 1998.

Joseph and Olga Hirschhorn at the opening of the Hirschhorn museum in 1974. Photo: Courtesy the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Joseph and Olga Hirshhorn at the opening of the Hirshhorn museum in 1974.
Photo: Courtesy the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Alongside her husband, Hirshhorn met and befriended major figures of the 20th century art world, including Pablo Picasso, Willem de Kooning, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Picasso signed a work “To Olga with love,” while de Kooning simply wrote: “Love Bill.”

Following her husband’s death, she continued his legacy of collecting and philanthropy, serving on the board for the museum, as well as on the board of directors for the Corcoran School of Art.

Her personal art collection ranged from blue chip pieces by Dali, Man Ray, and Alexander Calder to finds acquired at the Georgetown flea market, often after a bit of haggling. Much of her collection eventually found a permanent home at the Baker Museum in Naples, where she spent her last years as a notable presence at local art events.

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