It is very sad to read in Bendor Grosvenor’s blog that Drue Heinz has died. She was a great benefactor and patron of art and writing, founder of the Paris Review, the Holy Grail of American short story writers, and donor of the Heinz Archive at the National Portrait Gallery. As Bendor asks, ‘How many discoveries have been made thanks to the breadth and ease of access of the Heinz Archive at the National Portrait Gallery in London, perhaps the best of its kind in the world?’
Drue Heinz with her husband HJ Heinz II, Photo (c) The Times
Many years ago I was lucky enough to meet Drue Heinz, at a friend’s 21st. The guests were a mixture of undergraduates, and friends of my hostess’s father. She had taken great care with the seating. My hostess knew that I had fantasies of being a writer, and at dinner I had Drue Heinz on my right, and a novelist on my left. Things got off to a sticky start, however. I didn’t recognise the author’s name, nor the title of his best-known book – which after thirty years I look forward now to reading – and being an inept conversationalist rather left things hanging at that point. Mrs Heinz asked me who my heroes were, and I said I didn’t have any. ‘This young man has no heroes!’ she said, in a thrilling voice, but again, where someone else might’ve made this fly I just let it pancake to the ground. ‘So what do you do?’ I asked her, and she said she was involved with writers’ colonies. ‘Like Yaddo?’ I said, delighted that I knew something. ‘I loved Alison Lurie’s Real People,‘ but unfortunately Lurie’s 1969 book – a very funny satire of writers’ infidelities – was still a sore topic at Yaddo. Mrs Heinz persevered with me, patiently, til the band struck up, when she asked me to dance, and, not knowing how to, I declined. ‘Young people don’t dance any more,’ she said sadly, taking the author’s gallant arm. The grown-ups moved onto the floor for the rest of the night, and the undergraduates tipsily sidled away into the corners.
It’s a dinner I replayed many times, remembering a friend’s wise advice afterwards: ‘It’s useful to have lists of things in mind for dinner conversation.’ I fantasised a second bite, finessing each sticky moment ‘I beg your pardon, I’m vastly ignorant – what’s your book about, Sir?’ ‘I’m sorry to hear it, I love Alison Lurie’ and ‘I’d be delighted to, as long as you lead, Mrs Heinz.’ Had it been a year later I would’ve said my hero was Truman Capote, and we could’ve rattled away about him til the cows came home. C’est la vie. Years later, when this was a slightly less painful memory, I was glad to recognise Drue Heinz’s name as the benefactor of the Heinz Archive. For those of us in British portraiture, the Heinz, whose core is a unique series of portrait images filed by sitter, is the first resort for most research, a gold-dust place where I have spent more happy hours over these three decades than any other archive. I can only imagine how the generations of writers feel, whose talent Mrs Heinz has personally fostered, but as an art historian I am immensely grateful to her as our patron. Mrs Heinz must be many people’s hero. She leaves the world a far richer place.