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Dolly Bright Silliman dies at 98; donated major artworks in L.A.

With husband David E. Bright, Dolly Bright Silliman helped launch the L.A. County Museum of Art with a gift of works by 20th century masters.

August 01, 2013
  • Dolly Bright and her husband, David, in 1964. Their collection of works by 20th century masters became a major gift to help launch the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Dolly Bright and her husband, David, in 1964. Their collection of works…

Dolly Bright Silliman, who with her late husband, David E. Bright, helped launch the Los Angeles County Museum of Art with a major gift of works by Picasso, Modigliani, Miro and other 20th century masters, died of natural causes Sunday at her Westlake Village home. She was 98.

Her death was confirmed by family friend Tony Peraino.

In 1967, two years after her husband died, Silliman donated 23 paintings by modern European and American masters. The largest single gift to the museum in the two years it had been open, the works formed the core of the museum's collection of 20th-century art.

Among the most important pieces was a rare Blue Period Picasso, "Portrait of Sebastia Juñer Vidal," painted in 1903. Other artists represented in the gift included Fernand Leger, Wassily Kandinsky, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and Mark Rothko.

"They bought very intelligently," Stephanie Barron, LACMA's senior curator of modern art, said of the Brights. "It was a tremendously important contribution … which in one fell swoop changed the perception of modern art for the public in Los Angeles."

Silliman also donated 11 key works to the Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden at UCLA in 1967, including David Smith's "Cubi XX" and Henry Moore's "Two-Piece Reclining Figure No. 3."

The daughter of a judge, Dolly Newmire was born in Los Angeles on Oct. 28, 1914. She was a dancer who had appeared in a few MGM movies before marrying Bright in the late 1940s.

Bright, who built his fortune during World II making radio and other electronic components, founded an award for emerging artists at the Venice Biennale in the 1950s. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1965 at age 57. Silliman continued to offer the prize through the late 1960s.

In 1985, she married Paul Silliman, a former actor and theater manager, who survives her along with a granddaughter, Christi Evans Lambou.

—Los Angeles Times staff writer

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