Huguette Clark, the reclusive heiress of a $300 million fortune, who died in 2011 at 104 , was so intent on sheltering her privacy that she chose to spend the last 20 years of her life under a pseudonym in a guarded New York hospital room with, in her last year, false information on the door.
A glimpse into her hidden lifestyle will be given on Wednesday when property from her New York apartment goes on the auction block at Christie’s. Included are 19th-century American paintings, rare first-edition books, musical instruments, gilded age furnishings, and decorative items.
Some of the 357 lots originally had been in the Fifth Avenue mansion built by her father, William Andrews Clark (1839-1925), one of the wealthiest men of the Gilded Age and a US senator representing Montana from 1901 to 1907. (The Huguette Clark story was told in Bill Dedman’s best-selling book, “Empty Mansions” [Ballantine, 2013]). Born in a log cabin near Connellsville, Pa., Clark found his fortune in merchandising, and copper mining and railroad building: with his enormous wealth came the desire to live lavishly.
The Beaux Arts mansion he built on Fifth Avenue in the early 1900s had 121 rooms, including a Louis XVI salon Clark imported from France, and four art galleries to house his $1 million art collection.
By this time Clark, a widower and father of four, had a second wife, Anna Eugenia La Chapelle who was in her early 20s and he in his 60s when they married. Huguette was born in 1906, the couple’s second daughter.
When Clark died, the mansion was sold, and Huguette and her mother (her older sister had died of meningitis in 1919) moved into a Fifth Avenue penthouse, which grew to 42 rooms when they expanded into apartments on a lower floor.
It was in one of the apartment’s countless closets that the legendary circa 1731 Stradivari violin, known as the Kreutzer Stradivari, was discovered when Huguette Clark’s estate was being settled. Named for Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831), the celebrated French virtuoso and composer, who played it from about 1795 until his death, the legendary violin has a $7.5 million-$10 million estimate.
When the Clarks purchased it in Paris in 1920 for Huguette, then 14 and already an accomplished violinist, they sent her a telegram that read “Darling . . . bought you the most wonderful violin in the world.” The violin is being sold in a sealed bid auction to run parallel with Wednesday’s auction. For the bidding process visit www.christies.com/kreutzer.
Among the paintings being sold are George Singer Sargent’s 1913 “Girl Fishing at San Vigilio” ($3 million-
$5 million) and William Merritt Chase’s circa 1886 “A Water Fountain in Prospect Park” ($700,000-$1 million), believed to have been a gift from the artist to William Clark.
Examples of the veritable library of books being offered are first editions of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” printed in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1855 ($100,000-$150,000) and of Charles Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du Mal,” printed in Paris in 1857 ($80,000-$120,000).
Furniture is as varied as a circa 1720 George I wing chair embroidered in 18th-century needlepoint ($60,000-
$90,000) and a late 19th-century French bureau à cylindre (roll top desk) ($50,000-$80,000). Among the decorative items are an 18th-century Chinese 9¼-inch greenish-white jade dish ($80,000-$120,000) and a pair of circa 1750 Louis XV candelabra ($60,000-
Huguette was an artist in her own right and usually painted in a sunlit room in her apartment overlooking Central Park. Seventeen of her never-before-seen oil paintings are included in the auction. Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Clark estate and its goal of establishing a charitable foundation devoted to arts and culture.
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A 19th-century Boston work table and an 18th-century Boston sugar bowl were among the top sellers at Northeast Auctions’ two-day auction last month, each more than tripling its high estimate.
The 1800-10 work table, with drawers and a pouche for storing a woman’s needlework, was made by Thomas Seymour (1771-1846), who with his father, John (1738-1818), were the leading Boston cabinetmakers of the Federal era. The table, which had an $8,000-
$12,000 estimate, sold for $40,800.
The silver sugar bowl, engraved with the year “1790” and marked “B* Burt” for the Colonial Boston silversmith Benjamin Burt, sold for $10,200 against a $2,000-$3,000 estimate.
Also soaring above its estimate was a circa 1820-30 Derby and Bloor Derby English porcelain dinner service of 40 pieces in the Imari pattern that brought $33,000 against a 1,500-$2,500 estimate.
The auction’s top seller was a circa 1826 double elephant folio hand-colored engraving of John James Audubon’s iconic image of the wild turkey from his book “Birds of America.” It sold for $69,000 against a $50,000-$75,000 estimate.
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Pablo Picasso’s circa 1923 drawing of a young woman nude except for the nightgown over the lower part of her body was the top seller at Skinner’s American and European Works of Art Auction last month. The 12-by-9-inch work brought $159,000 against a $30,000-$50,000 estimate.
It was among the 44 Modern and contemporary works in the sale, 20 of which brought five-figure prices including $49,200 for “Milking the Cow” (estimate $12,000-$18,000), an oil by the Lebanese artist Saliba Douaihy (1915-94) and $31,980 for “House of van Gogh” (estimate $15,000-$20,000), an oil by the Ukrainian artist David Davidovich Burliuk (1882-1967).
The top-selling print was “Toilette,” a 1923 woodcut on heavy paper from an edition of 35 by the German artist Max Beckmann (1884-1950). It fetched $9,840 against a $5,000-$7,000 estimate. The top-selling photograph was O. Winston Link’s 1958 gelatin silver print “Main Line on Main Street, Norfolk, West Virginia.” Picturing the arrival of a train, it brought $5,228 against a $4,000-$6,000 estimate.
A 19th-century hand-tinted sixth-plate daguerreotype of two girls fetched $1,772, the top price of the 150 daguer-reotypes from a private New England collection. The estimate was $email@example.com.
Correction: Because of a reportering error, an earlier version misstated two things: The auction includes only items from her New York apartment, and the family expanded into apartment space below theirs, not on the same floor.