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Obituaries

D. Olmedo Patino, 94; Avid Art Collector

July 29, 2002|CHRIS KRAUL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — Dolores Olmedo Patino, a shrewd self-made woman and avid art collector whose museum houses the biggest collections of works by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, died late Saturday of a heart attack at her estate in suburban Xochimilco. She was 94.

From humble beginnings in Guerrero state, Olmedo Patino amassed enormous wealth in construction and real estate while cultivating a friendship with the great Mexican muralist Rivera, who died in 1957. She bought many of her 140 Rivera works and 25 Kahlo paintings from Rivera and many on the open market, including a recent purchase of cubist work by Rivera.

In 1988, she transferred title to her striking, beautifully restored 17th century Spanish Colonial mansion and estate, La Noria, to the people of Mexico, along with her art collection. Several of her Kahlo and Rivera works travel frequently to international exhibitions.

At his death, Rivera willed his and Kahlo's works and images--Kahlo died in 1954--to the nation and named Olmedo Patino as head of the trust that controls them. Assets include the Kahlo museum, the Blue House and the Rivera museum, as well as intellectual rights to both artists' works and their archives.

She maintained control over the trusts until her death, and her stewardship spurred criticism from some scholars over issues ranging from the restoration of the Kahlo house to restrictions on access to the two artists' archives. The makers of an upcoming movie on the life of Kahlo, starring Salma Hayek, had to acquire permission from Olmedo Patino to use Kahlo's image.

Often portrayed as a rival of Kahlo's for Rivera's affection, Olmedo Patino said that she and the muralist had been nothing more than friends. But in interviews with The Times, she made no effort to conceal her disdain for Kahlo, saying that Kahlo never would have become famous, had she not married Rivera.

"Nor would she have been famous without me," Olmedo Patino told The Times, a reference to the frequency with which her Kahlo works are loaned to exhibitions, a factor in Kahlo's enormous popularity. "In the future, Kahlo will fade away. Frida is in style now."

Olmedo Patino's wealth brought her political power in the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. She was on friendly terms with a succession of Mexican presidents, from Miguel Aleman through Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Her son, Alfredo Phillips Olmedo, is a former Mexican ambassador to Canada and Japan, a onetime federal congressman and former chief executive of the North American Development Bank.

In addition to the former ambassador, Olmedo Patino is survived by sons Carlos and Eduardo; daughter Irene; and 14 grandchildren. Her husband, the naturalized Briton Howard S. Phillips, who settled in Mexico after covering the Mexican Revolution as a war correspondent, died in 1972.

"Her intention all along, from the very beginning, was to leave her great collection to the Mexican people," Alfredo Phillips Olmedo said Sunday. Daughter Irene Phillips Olmedo said her mother was "intensely proud of Mexico and being Mexican."

Olmedo Patino demonstrated business acumen in her 20s by buying a brick factory and expanding into construction and, with it, vast real estate holdings. She was one of the founders of ICA, a Mexican construction company that, at one time, was one of Latin America's largest.

As a schoolgirl, Olmedo Patino met Rivera when the artist was completing a cycle of murals in the Ministry of Education. Rivera asked her mother if he could sketch her and did several works, including several nudes.

"Of course, I never told my mother I posed nude. She would have killed me," Olmedo Patino told The Times in a 1993 interview.

Thus begun a relationship with Rivera that continued until his death. He spent weeks with her family at her Acapulco estate in his declining years, after Kahlo's death, and did several portraits of family members. She helped finance Rivera's trip to the Soviet Union for medical treatment shortly before his death.

Rivera gave Olmedo Patino a list of important works of his that were on the market and she set about acquiring them, her daughter Irene said Sunday. She bought several Kahlo works from industrialist Eduardo Murillo Safa in 1955, when Kahlo's work sold for $400 a painting. A recent auction of a Kahlo painting brought $3 million, the highest amount ever paid for a work by a female artist.

A private service will follow cremation today. The family said President Vicente Fox had called to offer a homage at Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts, where the country's major cultural figures are traditionally honored.

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