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The Washington Post Company
Art Collector Carmen Kreeger, 94
March 18, 2003
Carmen M. Kreeger had her Northwest Washington mansion transformed into a public museum.
Carmen M. Kreeger, the philanthropist who with her husband, Geico insurance company founder David Lloyd Kreeger, amassed an extensive art collection that became the basis for the Kreeger Museum, died of congestive heart failure March 10 at her home in Chevy Chase. She was 94.
The Kreegers were major supporters of organizations that included the Washington Performing Arts Society, Arena Stage, Washington Opera, Corcoran Gallery of Art, National Symphony and American University.
They began buying art in the 1950s and agreed early on that they both had to like a work to acquire it. Their first serious purchase was of an abstract expressionist oil by Ardon-Bronstein, "Ravens Over the Valley of Emek."
Later, there was a Renoir and a Blue Period Picasso, then paintings by Van Gogh, Monet, Braque, Sisley, Chagall, Dubuffet and Miro as well as modern works and African and Asian art. In all, there were more than 200 paintings and sculptures, 30 of which had to be sold two years after Mr. Kreeger retired, when he stepped in to help keep Geico solvent.
In the 1960s, the Kreegers commissioned architect Philip Johnson to design a structure on Foxhall Road NW to house them and their burgeoning collection, with an eye to converting it later for public use.
Mrs. Kreeger furnished the house, helped design the five-acre grounds and planted a tropical garden in the atrium. For years after their mansion was completed in 1967, the Kreegers sponsored musical evenings there several times a month. They regularly entertained guests ranging from the rich and politically well-connected to students living up the road at American University.
Mrs. Kreeger moved out of the modern Mediterranean mansion in 1992, two years after her husband's death, and it opened as a museum in 1994 with about 180 works on display. It also conducts educational programs.
The former Carmen Matanzo y Jaramillo was born in Puerto Rico and raised there and in New York. After graduating from the Savage School of Physical Education, now part of New York University, she taught physical education in Puerto Rico. She met David Lloyd Kreeger there in 1935, while he was working as a lawyer with the Interior Department. They married three years later.
In addition to her work with other cultural institutions and as a trustee of the Kreeger Museum, Mrs. Kreeger was active in the Garden Club of Washington.
Survivors include two children, Peter Kreeger of Montgomery County, and Carol Ingall of Chicago; nine grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.