Isabel H. Klots, an artist and widow of noted portrait painter Trafford P. Klots whose medieval home in Rochefort-en-Terre in Brittany, France, served as a venue for several generations of artists who came there to paint and study, died Thursday from heart failure at Roland Park Place. She was 96.
"Isabel was a grande dame, if there ever was one, with a strong sense of absolute authority. Yet she could be very warm and embracing, and she also had a real artist's sensibility," said the celebrated Baltimore painter Raoul Middleman. "She had a real feel for art and artists. I loved her. She was for real."
"She was a remarkable lady who cared deeply about artists, knew their needs and liked being with them," recalled Fred Lazarus, president of the Maryland Institute College of Art.
"One of Baltimore's most brilliant stars just dimmed. Isabel's death is a great loss," said Stiles T. Colwill, an interior designer and longtime close friend who owns Stiles Colwill Interiors in Lutherville. "She was one of a kind and a person from a bygone era."
The daughter of Garnet Hulings, a career naval officer, and Salena Carden Hulings, the former Isabel Hulings was born in Panama. She spent her early years in Tokyo, where her father was naval attache to the U.S. Embassy.
The family returned to Baltimore in the 1920s and settled at Stone Hall, their Cuba Road estate in the Worthington Valley.
Mrs. Klots was educated at the old Greenwood School in Ruxton and Westover School in Middlebury, Conn.
In June 1935, she traveled to London, where she was presented to King George V and Queen Mary at Buckingham Palace. "Miss Hulings had a gown of white satin, empire style, trimmed with a cape of silver sequins. Her jewels were a diamond bracelet, ring and earrings," reported The Baltimore Sun at the time.
She and her mother, who was by then a widow, were traveling in Europe before World War II and were staying at the Francois Choiseul Hotel in Paris, where she met a budding young artist from Baltimore, Trafford Partridge Klots, who was also a guest at the hotel.
Mr. Klots invited the two women to accompany him to Rochefort-en-Terre in Brittany, the ducal chateau that his father, Alfred Partridge Klots, also a renowned portrait painter, had purchased in the early 1900s and restored to its former grandeur.
"She was the chatelaine of Rochefort-en-Terre that her father-in-law created," said Mr. Colwill.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Trafford Klots joined the U.S. Army, while his future wife and mother-in-law returned to Baltimore. He proposed marriage in 1942, and the couple married two days later in Baltimore.
When the war ended, the couple returned to Rochefort-en-Terre, which had survived, though it had been occupied by German soldiers during the war.
The couple spent nearly the next 30 years dividing their time between the chateau and Stone Hall, where they lived in a carriage house.
Mr. Klots, who told The Sun in an interview that Brittany was an "an ideal spot" to work, also enjoyed painting landscapes, still-lifes and flowers.
In Baltimore, he painted in a studio at 12 Branch Lane, off Mount Vernon Place, where he continued working in addition to his chateau, until his death in 1976.
"After Trafford's death, she did everything she could to promote her husband and his work, and from that moment on, lived vicariously through the next generation of young artists who came to paint at Rochefort-en-Terre," said Mr. Colwill.
"She was extraordinarily generous and was always trying to do things for other artists and students and opened a lot of doors for a lot of people," he said.
"Whenever she asked me do something like a fundraiser, there was always a carrot at the end. She'd give you one of Trafford's paintings," said Mr. Colwill.
For years, students participating in the Alfred and Trafford Klots International Program for Artists at the Maryland Institute College of Art, a summer residency program, traveled to Brittany to paint at the chateau. In recent years, because Mrs. Klots donated the chateau to the French government, the program has been held elsewhere in Brittany.
"For years, she provided the space and the endowment, and we have continued to involve her in meetings and keeping her up on what the traditional artists were painting as well as the experimental," said Mr. Lazarus.
"And she was absolutely quite a good painter but was very self-deprecating about her work. She did very good and wonderful work," he said. "She was a good and wonderful lady who loved telling stories."
"She was a great critic of my work but was encouraging," said Mr. Middleman, who had stayed and painted at Rochefort. "Isabel was most intelligent and she could tell me how to improve it. She had a fantastic eye."
Mrs. Klots also established the International Program for Artists in Rochefort, which provided hospitality for visiting artists, many of whom were from the U.S. In recognition of this program, the French government presented her the Legion of Honor.
In addition to MICA, Mrs. Klots was a supporter of the Baltimore Museum of Art.
She enjoyed entertaining in France and at her St. Paul at Chase penthouse apartment that overlooked Baltimore. For the last decade, she had lived at Roland Park Place.
"Glittering entertainment. That would be Isabel," recalled Mr. Colwill.
"She was a doyenne. A great hostess and even though she was in a small apartment at Roland Park Place and had no help, she insisted on cooking. She was a marvelous French cook," he said.
"We've been friends for years and used to go fox hunting together for a lot of them," said Kitty Hoffman of Lutherville.
"I spent a week at Rochefort in 1964 and never had more fun. She was a delightful person with a great sense of humor. She was more cultured than most of us because she had lived abroad," said Ms. Hoffman.
James W. Constable, a partner in the Baltimore law firm of Wright, Constable & Skean LLP, was Mrs. Klots' attorney and personal representative.
"I'd go to Roland Park Place to see her once a week, and we'd have a drink. She liked drinking Johnnie Walker Black or Johnnie Walker Red Scotch because it came in square bottles, which were easier to store," said Mr. Constable.
"She was loads of fun and was still chipper and joking. She went downhill very quickly but had a marvelous, marvelous life," he said.
Mrs. Klots will join her husband in the town churchyard in Rochefort-en-Terre.
A memorial service for Mrs. Klots will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 23 at Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, Mount Royal and Lafayette avenues.
There are no survivors.