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Jayne Wrightsman, Arts Benefactor and Doyenne of High Society, Dies at 99



As patrons of the Met, the Wrightsmans filled 13 period rooms with 18th- and 19th-century French sofas, chairs, tables, cabinets, desks, porcelain, carpets, clocks, candelabra, lamps, chandeliers, mirrors and wall paneling, much of it made for the salons of Louis XV, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

The Met named the suite the Wrightsman Galleries for French Decorative Arts. The contents were documented in a five-volume catalog, “The Wrightsman Collection,” published in 1965 and 1966 by the Met and written by Francis J.B. Watson.

“Charles and Jayne Wrightsman little by little have assembled a collection of furniture and related works of art that may be favorably compared with the great national collections,” James J. Rorimer, the Met’s director at the time, wrote in an introduction.

Jane Kirkman Larkin was born on Oct. 21, 1919, in Flint, Mich., one of four children of Frederick and Aileen Larkin. Her father headed a construction company. When Jane was about 12, her parents split up. The mother and children moved to Los Angeles. Jane, who added a “y” to her given name, attended Los Angeles High School.

She had various jobs and led a busy social life. In a 2003 profile, Vanity Fair said she was popular with “socialites, playboys and aspiring film stars.” She met Mr. Wrightsman at a dinner party and they were married on March 28, 1944. He died on May 27, 1986, at the age of 90. Mrs. Wrightsman had no immediate family survivors. Two brothers, Frederick Jr. and Lawrence, and a sister, Katherine, had died previously.

For most of her married life, Mrs. Wrightsman shied away from publicity. Later, she appeared more often at fund-raisers and museum functions. When her friend Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis died in 1994, Mrs. Wrightsman gave the Met an 1817 portrait of the French statesman Talleyrand by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon in her memory.

Besides donating Monet and Delacroix paintings, the Wrightsmans over the years gave the Met works by Renoir, Vermeer, El Greco, Rubens, Georges da La Tour, Jacques-Louis David and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Virtually all of them had been displayed in the Wrightsman homes for years, providing a sublime ambience for dinner parties and quiet afternoons.

“It is important that these were not mere checkbook transactions, in which paintings moved directly from the dealer’s gallery or auction room to the Met,” John Russell, The Times art critic, wrote in 1986. “Many of them were held for 10, 15 or even 20 years. Lived with, they were scrutinized every day, at all seasons, and (not least) in all humors, before they went to the Met.”

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