The Corcoran will gain a seat on the board of directors of the Bellosguardo Foundation, a new institution whose principal asset is Clark’s $85 million seaside mansion of that name in Santa Barbara, Calif. Corcoran officials said that the gallery could collaborate with the foundation by lending paintings and expertise, and the foundation might one day make grants to the gallery.
The settlement puts a period on what is, in many ways, a sad but classic multigenerational American saga of great deeds and wealth, of eccentricity and charity, ending in a free-for-all to divide up the spoils of a 19th-century fortune.
“There just don’t seem to be people like Huguette around anymore,” said Peggy Loar, interim director and president of the Corcoran. “The doyennes are pretty much gone.”
Clark, who died in May 2011, and her father, copper baron and U.S. Sen. William Clark, were major benefactors of the Corcoran. The father, a billionaire in today’s dollars, left hundreds of artworks to the gallery when he died in 1925, and Huguette, the only surviving child of his second marriage, helped pay for a huge expansion of the gallery building near the White House in the late 1920s. She gave millions more to the Corcoran over the decades.
Huguette Clark had no children. Her brief marriage to the son of an employee of her father’s ended in 1930. She was a painter and a reluctant social celebrity of the Jazz Age who was close to her mother, her father’s much younger second wife. Huguette began withdrawing from society after her mother’s death in the early 1960s. She accumulated a world-class collection of art dolls and spent the last 20 years of her life in Beth Israel Hospital in New York — paying as much as $400,000 a year — despite being reasonably healthy for much of the time and owning mansions on both coasts and three luxury apartments in New York. From the hospital, she wrote checks for millions of dollars in gifts to her nurse, her doctors and others.
Dividing up an estate
In 2005, she signed two wills within a six-week span. The second will cut out her distant relatives. The lawyer who drafted it was one beneficiary, and so was her nurse. The will also called for the creation of the Bellosguardo Foundation, and the Corcoran was to get “Water Lilies,” valued at $25 million. But the gallery joined the family in contesting the will. Sixteen law firms jumped into the fray.