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Edith Lewin; She and Husband Donated Mexican Art Holdings to County Museum

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Edith Lewin, who with her husband donated a collection of 20th century Mexican art valued at more than $25 million to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has died. She was 88.

Lewin died Sunday of cancer in their Palm Springs home, said her husband, Bernard Lewin, through an aide.

Officially given to the museum Oct. 3, 1997, the collection was the largest privately owned trove of modern Mexican art ever assembled, with about 1,800 paintings and works on paper. The Lewins amassed the vast collection during decades of travels in Mexico and personal friendships with such artists as Rufino Tamayo and David Siqueiros.

Other modern Mexican masters represented in their collection include Jose Clemente Orozco, Carlos Merida, Rafael Coronel, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

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The Lewins retained ownership of the only portrait that Rivera ever painted of his wife, Kahlo, and of a Kahlo painting called “Weeping Coconuts,” until both Edith and Bernard die. The paintings, however, have been on loan to the museum for display. Several pieces in the Lewin collection will be included in a complementary exhibit to the museum’s current display of Rivera paintings.

Although the Lewins had operated an art gallery in Palm Springs since 1984, they chose the Los Angeles museum for their collection because they lived here when they accumulated the art. They began their collection in 1958 when, attracted by Rivera’s raw power and sympathy for his people, they bought three of his paintings.

Turning over the collection, closing their galleries and “retiring” came hard for Edith Lewin, who said in 1997: “I personally feel very sad about it. I like to work. I don’t like to retire. I like to go into the gallery.”

But she knew that her husband was right and never demurred when he enlisted Getty Center conservation expert Miguel Angel Corso to help find a place for the collection.

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The museum’s first exhibition of the gift was in February 1998, with 97 of the works, titled “Mexican Masterpieces From the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection.” Other exhibits have followed.

Edith Lewin also served on the museum’s Board of Trustees, and museum President and Chief Executive Officer Andrea Rich said Tuesday that her “spirit and generosity” will be greatly missed.

“The Bernard and Edith Lewin collection of modern Mexican art that they loved so dearly will stand as a monument to Edith’s memory,” said Graham W.J. Beal, museum director. “I know how very difficult it was for Edith to part with works she and her husband had spent many years collecting, particularly the portrait of Frida Kahlo by Diego Rivera. In the end, however, she derived pleasure from knowing that these works are now shared with the people of Los Angeles.”

The German-born Edith Hoffman married Lewin in Berlin in 1933. Five years later, the couple fled the growing Nazi threat with their 4-year-old son, Ralph. They settled in Los Angeles, where Bernard Lewin bought a truck for $30 and began moving furniture for Depression-era Americans.

Eventually he started buying and selling furniture and established the B. Lewin furniture store in Van Nuys, advertising “a furniture store daring to be different.” The Lewins added stores in Glendale and North Hollywood, and in all three showrooms exhibited and sold artworks alongside household items.

They opened their B. Lewin Galleries in Beverly Hills in 1968 and a few years later closed the furniture stores to concentrate full time on art--by then solely Mexican art.

They owned the Beverly Hills gallery until 1986 and operated their B. Lewin Galleries in Palm Springs from 1984 until they donated their Mexican collection to the museum more than a year ago.

Their son continues to operate a gallery in Palm Springs specializing in Southwest art.

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In addition to her husband and son, Edith Lewin is survived by two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Her husband said services will be private and asked that any memorial donations be sent to the American Cancer Society.


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