A Legacy of Art: The Family of William Andrews Clark

In 1988, I made a visit to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. to see the fabulous art collection bequeathed by the late William Andrews Clark. He was the owner of Jerome, Arizona’s United Verde Copper Company, the legendary mine that was once the nation’s largest copper producer.

There I saw some of his fabulous collection of 16th century Italian majolica pottery, rare Gobelins tapestry, the lovely ballerinas painted by Degas (I have a small black and white Degas sketch that my mother left me), and the Salon Dore, which was in the middle of half a million dollar renovation.

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I watched French artisans meticulously restoring the extensive gold leaf in the Louis XIV Salon Dore, which was in the midst of renovation. The room used to be in Clark’s New York mansion. The ceiling of the salon was a large canvas that was painted by the great French artist Jean-Honore Fragonard. Clark’s daughter Huguette contributed $50,000 to the restoration.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art's Salon Dore used to be in the New York mansion of William Andrews Clark.

The Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Salon Dore used to be in the New York mansion of William Andrews Clark. Prior to that it was part of a French Palace.

Although William Andrews Clark was the owner of the United Verde Copper Company, the largest mine in Jerome, few people in Jerome recognize his name. The historical society’s Mine Museum gives him a photo and a few scant paragraphs. In 2012, the chief sales person could not tell me anything about him. “I’m just learning about Jerome,” she told me.

Perhaps his name will become more familiar because of the book, Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newall, Jr. which became a New York Times best seller after it was published in 2013. Huguette was one of America’s great heiresses and the only remaining child of both W.A Clark’s first and second marriages.

Until her death in 2011, few people in America had heard of her either. It took a few weeks, and a phone call from local geologist Paul Handverger, for The Verde Independent newspaper in Cottonwood, Arizona to figure out that the death of W.A. Clark’s daughter merited an obituary.[1]

During the mining heydays, people in Jerome talked about the billions Clark made in the Jerome mine and other business ventures and the scandal he caused when he bribed his way into being elected as a United States senator.

Only a few people knew that Clark’s private passion was art.

William Andrews Clark in Jerome, Arizona.  Courtesy of the Herbert V. Young Collection of the Jerome Historical Society.

William Andrews Clark in Jerome, Arizona. Courtesy of the Herbert V. Young Collection of the Jerome Historical Society.

Jerome, Arizona, early nineteen hundreds. Courtesy collection of Herbert V. Young, Jerome HIstorical Society

Jerome, Arizona, early nineteen hundreds. Courtesy collection of Herbert V. Young, Jerome HIstorical Society

View of Jerome and Cleopatra Hill from the old cemetary. Photograph by Bob Swanson (Swanson Images.com)

View of Jerome and Cleopatra Hill in 1985  from the old cemetary. Photograph by Bob Swanson (Swanson Images.com)

Today, few people in Jerome recognize the name of William Andrews Clark. The Jerome Historical Society’s Mine Museum gives him a photo and a few scant paragraphs. The museum’s gift shop manager that I talked with in January 2013 did not recognize his name. “I’m just learning about Jerome,” she told me.

During the mining heydays, people in Jerome talked about Clark’s billions and the scandals caused when he bribed his way into the United States Senate (he resigned rather than become impeached.)

Few people in Jerome know that Clark’s private passion was art.

The New York Mansion that Became Clark’s Private Art Museum

In 1908, Clark completed construction of his fifteen million dollar, 137-room, nine-story mansion on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 77th in New York, known popularly as ‘Millionaires Row.’ A huge copper dome that glittered in the sun topped the mansion. One popular writer of New York society called the mansion a “rusticated and encrusted folly spewing an anthology of over-blown detail taken from every county courthouse and Victorian city hall, plus a ridiculous steeple.”[2]

The mansion contained four large art galleries, lined with red velvet, which were filled with hundreds of French paintings by Corot, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Van Dyck and Rembrandt, rare laces from Belgium and Venice, a large collection of Italian Majolica pottery, Persian rugs and rare Gobelins tapestries. Clark shopped for much of the art himself. He loved his treasures.

The mansion that William Andrews Clark built on Millionaire's Row in Manhattan in 1912.

The mansion that William Andrews Clark built on Millionaire’s Row in Manhattan that was completed in 1912.

The crusty New York Society shunned Clark, his very young second wife Anna, and their daughters Huguette and Andree.

Huguette Clark (left), her father William Andrews Clark, and daughter Andree (right).

Huguette Clark (left), her father William Andrews Clark, and daughter Andree (right) taken in Butte, Montana.

They called Clark a quick boy, a slur that referred to his being born in a poor family and making his money too quickly. {2}

When Clark offered his art collection to the governing board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, made up of many of the snobbish robber barons and their wives, they turned it down. According to newspaper accounts, the public reasons were that the collection was too ‘spotty,’ and came with too many strings attached.  Clark bequeathed his collection to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. After his death, his wife and daughters contributed the equivalent of nine million dollars to build a wing to house the collection.

The mansion was willed to Huguette and four children by his former marriage. Huguette moved out. The other siblings had no will to live in it or maintain it. The building sold for 3 million and was torn down by its new owner to make way for an apartment building. Many of the furnishings were sold at auction. [3]

A Passion for Art

Clark’s passion for art extended to his family.

Anna, Clark’s second wife, loved chamber music, and was a musician dedicated to learning to play the harp. She not founded the famed Paganini Quartet, and purchased four Stradivarious instruments for the musicians to play on.  (Andree, her other daughter, died when she was seventeen.)

William Andrews Clark, Jr., a son by his first wife, and a violinist, founded the Los Angeles Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. An avid collector of English history and literature resulted in his bequeathing 13,000 volumes to UCLA and the building that housed them, along with an endowment of $1.5 million.  It is now known as the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. The library has grown to contain 980,000 volumes. The only restriction in Clark’s will was that the books could only leave the library for repairs.

Huguette was a fine arts painter and a collector of art, including paintings by Monet and Renoir. She played the violin and in the fifties purchased one of Antonio Stradivari’s very finest violins called “La Pucelle,” or “The Virgin.” The tailpiece depicts Joan of Arc, the virgin warrior, a story much loved by Huguette.

Huguette’s major passion was the collecting, outfitting and housing of French, Japanese, German and American dolls. She meticulously researched homes to fit their lifestyles and their furnishings and spent millions in commissioning artisans to build them.

In a settlement of Huguette’s will, her  eighty-five million dollar seaside mansion known as Bellosguardo, in Santa Barbara, California become an arts foundation and would receive fifteen percent of her fortune (4.5 million in cash) and the doll collection that was valued at 1.7 million.[5]

It is a sadness to me that the William Andrews Clark family whose legacy includes the twin pillars of both history and art on which Jerome has become famous should be so forgotten, ghosts that inhabit the ethers of Jerome but not many memories.


[1] Ayers, Steve, “Poor Little Rich Girl,” The Verde Independent, June 8, 2011. http://www.verdenews.com/main.asp?SectionID=74&SubSectionID=114&ArticleID=42352  (Huguette died on May 24, 2011).
[2] Simon, Kate. Fifth Avenue: A Very Social History. Harcourt Brace Jovanovish, New York and London: 1978, page 219[3]  David Montgomery, staff writer for The Washington Post, wrote this blog on January 31, 2013.
[3} Dedman, Bill and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune. Ballantine Books, New York, 2013, page 119.
[4] Dedman, op cit., pp.  274-276.
[5]. Dedman, op cit., pp 294-300.