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Tour recluse Huguette Clark's art collection; viewing days set at Christie's New York

Estate of Huguette M. Clark, courtesy of Christie's

Pierre-Auguste Renoir's "Femme à l'ombrelle," or "Woman with Umbrella," from the collection of Huguette Clark is expected to fetch $3 million to $5 million at a sale in May in New York. The Clark collection is touring London, Asia and New York for public viewing. The woman with the parasol in the 1873 painting may be Camille Monet, the wife of the painter Claude Monet.

By Bill Dedman

Investigative Reporter, NBC News

Estate of Huguette M. Clark, courtesy of Christie's

Huguette Clark was 24 when she purchased this work from Claude Monet's series of "Nymphéas," or "Water Lilies," in 1930 in New York. This 1907 painting remained out of the public eye until now. It is estimated by Christie's to bring $25 million to $35 million at auction on May 6, after it is available for viewing in London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and New York.

NEW YORK — Monet and Renoir masterpieces from the art collection of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark, hidden away like their owner for nearly a century, will be available for viewing in New York beginning Friday, April 18. Christie's will auction the works in May and June.

The collection includes rare books, furniture, paintings, silver, porcelain, jade and other objects, more than 400 in all.

This is the schedule for viewings at Christie's in Rockefeller Center, at West 49th Street and 6th Avenue. Most days the exhibits will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

  • April 18-24 (except Sunday): Selected items, including paintings by Monet,  Renoir, Chase and Sargent; books by Baudelaire and Whitman; the Stradivarius violin known as the Kruetzer (1731); a concert harp; furniture; porcelain; and jade.
  • May 2-6 (except Sunday): Viewing of Impressionist and Modern work.
  • May 6: Sale of four Impressionist paintings.
  • June 14-17 (except Sunday): Viewing of more than 400 Clark objects.
  • June 18: Sale of more than 400 Clark objects.

First, on May 6, four Impressionist paintings will be sold at Christie's in Rockefeller Center, including a Monet from his "Water Lilies" series with an estimated value of $25 million to $35 million. This Monet has not been seen in public since the copper heiress bought it in 1930. Her three paintings by Renoir will also be sold: "Girls Playing Battledore and Shuttlecock," "Chrysanthemums," and "Woman with Umbrella." Together the Renoir trio is estimated to be worth $16.5 million to $25.5 million.

Then on June 18, more than 400 objects collected by Clark and her parents will receive their own spotlight at a sale at Christie's. They include paintings by Americans John Singer Sargent ("Girl Fishing at San Vigilio") and William Merritt Chase ("A Water Fountain in Prospect Park"); a Stradivarius violin ("the Kreutzer," c. 1731) and other musical instruments; rare books (a first edition of Baudelaire's "Les fleurs du mal," a Book of Hours from the 16th century with pages bordered in liquid gold, and a first edition of Whitman's "Leaves of Grass"); European furniture and decorative arts; Chinese works of art; and English silver. (More details are in a press release from Christie's, and see more photos below.)


Estate of Huguette M. Clark, courtesy of Christie's

Renoir's "Girls Playing Battledore and Shuttlecock" has a pre-sale estimated value of $10 million to $15 million. Huguette Clark paid $125,000 for it in the late 1950s. From about 1887, this large work is one of Renoir's most prized, showing five women in a rural landscape.

Estate of Huguette M. Clark, courtesy of Christie's

Huguette Clark on a ship with her father, W.A. Clark, the copper miner and former senator, in the 1910s. The familiy held tickets on the return trip of the Titanic in 1912, though as Huguette explained some 80 years later, "We took another boat."

Huguette (pronounced "oo-GET") Marcelle Clark was the youngest child of former U.S. Sen. William Andrews Clark (1839-1925), one of the copper kings of Montana, a railroad builder, founder of Las Vegas, and one of the richest men of the Gilded Age. Huguette, born in Paris in 1906, was a painter and doll collector who spent her last 20 years living in simple hospital rooms. She attracted the attention of NBC News in 2009 because her fabulous homes in Connecticut, California and New York sat unoccupied but carefully maintained. (See all the stories in the NBC series.)

After Clark died in 2011 at age 104, nineteen relatives challenged her last will and testament, which had cut them out of her $300 million copper fortune. The relatives claimed that she was mentally ill and had been defrauded by her nurse, attorney and accountant. No one was charged with any crime after an investigation by the district attorney's office, but enough questions were raised that the case was settled in September 2013 just after jury selection began. The relatives, who last saw her in 1957 and most of whom never met Clark, will receive $34.5 million. Lawsuits continue as the relatives hope to receive more money from Clark's hospital and doctor. The proceeds from the scheduled sales at Christie's will go back into the estate for distribution under that settlement. (Read a summary of the deal here.)

Though Clark kept much of her art collection under wraps, along with the rest of her life, she was a persistent supporter of the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and lent works to it periodically, including two paintings by Sargent and one of the Renoirs. Most of the art collected by her father went to the Corcoran after his death in 1925, after the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York turned it down.

Not for sale are paintings made by Clark herself. Those will go to a new Bellosguardo Foundation for the arts, to be set up at her summer estate in Santa Barbara, Calif. The foundation received her oceanfront property by that name, worth at least $85 million. With only about $5 million in cash — an exact amount still to be determined — the foundation will have to choose a mission and figure out how to fund it. It could become a public museum, or the house could be sold to fund the foundation's charitable efforts. The board members will be appointed, probably by this summer, by the New York attorney general; most will be nominated by the mayor of Santa Barbara.

The foundation also will receive Clark's collection of dolls, mostly from France, Germany and Japan, as well as  dollhouses and model Japanese castles she designed, altogether worth an estimated $1.7 million.

Clark's jewelry collection was sold at Christie's in 2012, bringing $18 million to provide cash to keep her estate running during the dispute. Her three apartments on Fifth Avenue sold for a total of $54.8 million. Her Connecticut home, unoccupied since she bought it in 1951, remains on the market at $15.9 million.

Bill Dedman is the co-author of the New York Times bestseller "Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune." The co-author is Paul Clark Newell Jr., Huguette Clark's cousin, who was not involved in the legal contest for her estate.

Estate of Huguette M. Clark from "Empty Mansions"

Paintings made by the shy artist Huguette Clark will not be sold at auction, but will go to the new Bellosguardo Foundation for the arts, at her California home. This self-portrait is from the late 1920s.

Estate of Huguette M. Clark, courtesy of Christie's

John Singer Sargent's "Girl Fishing at San Vigilio," dated 1913, has a pre-sale estimate of $3 million to $5 million.

Estate of Huguette M. Clark, courtesy of Christie's

Renoir's "Chrysanthèmes," c. 1876-1880, has a pre-sale estimate of $3.5 million to $5.5 million.

Estate of Huguette M. Clark, courtesy of Christie's

Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," published in Brooklyn, 1855, has a pre-sale estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.

Estate of Huguette M. Clark, courtesy of Christie's

A Book of Hours from the 16th century with pages bordered in liquid gold has a pre-sale estimate of $40,000 to $60,000.

Estate of Huguette M. Clark, courtesy of Christie's

A George I walnut and beech wing armchair, c. 1725, covered in 18th century gros and petit point needlework, has a pre-sale estimate of $60,000 to $90,000.

Estate of Huguette M. Clark, courtesy of Christie's

Huguette's second-best violin, the 1731 "Kruetzer" by Stradovari, has a pre-sale estimate of $7.5 million to $10 million.

Estate of Huguette M. Clark, courtesy of Christie's

A 47-string double-action concert harp, Louix XV style, from Paris c. 1912-1915, has a pre-sale estimate of $3,000 to $5,000. This harp would have been played by Huguette Clark's mother, Anna.

Estate of Huguette M. Clark, courtesy of Christie's

William Merritt Chase's "A Water Fountain in Prospect Park," c. 1886, has a pre-sale estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. Chase was a favorite of Huguette Clark's father, Sen. W.A. Clark.

 

Other stories in the Clark series: