The second Clark sale

EditorsJun 24, 2014

The second Clark sale

Everybody loves a mystery, and there is something particularly tantalizing about one that will never quite get solved.

Last week, I wrote about Christie’s auctioning the possessions of Huguette M. Clark, amazing pieces of artwork, antique furniture and musical instruments that had been untouched in her three New York City apartments for decades. The sale of “The Clark Family Treasures” follows the 2012 auction of her jewels.

I remember when Christie's first circulated information about Clark's jewels. They, like the rest of her possessions, had remained untouched for year, locked away in a bank vault and unworn. Christie's Rahul Kadakia called finding the hidden treasure remarkable. The collection then sold for more than $18 million, surpassing Christie's highest pre-sale estimate by $6 million.

What it proved, once again, is that it is difficult to put a price on provenance. How much are people going to be willing to pay over an item's estimated market worth just to say they owned something that was once the property of a specific person? And how much does an intriguing life add to this value?

Clark lived to be 104, the last surviving heiress from the Gilded Age with mansions in Connecticut and California in addition to her apartments in New York. Yet she voluntarily chose to live the last 20 years of her life in a room in New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center, and it seems no one will fully understand the reasons behind her decision.

The sale of the mysterious heiress’ rare books, artwork, antique furniture and other objects garnered $8.5 million. Interestingly, almost exactly half of the sale’s total, $4.3 million, was paid for one object, a painting by John Singer Sargent called Girl Fishing, signed by the artist in 1913.

[caption id="attachment_2395" align="aligncenter" width="600"]

John Singer Sargent lived from 1856 to 1925. His painting "Girl Fishing" was the top lot of Christie’s recent sale of Huguette M. Clark’s possessions. Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd.[/caption]

The next highest-grossing lot in the sale didn’t even come close to fetching what Girl Fishing garnered.

It was a painting by William Merritt Chase called A Water Fountain in Prospect Park, which sold for $461,000. The sale’s third highest-grossing lot (be still my nerdy, book-loving heart) was a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, printed for the poet in Brooklyn in 1855. The book went for $305,000, more than double its highest pre-sale estimate.

[caption id="attachment_2396" align="aligncenter" width="600"]
"A Water Fountain in Prospect Park," painted circa 1886,

sold for more than $400,000 at Christie’s auction of “The Clark Family Treasures” held on June 18. Photo credit: Christie’s Images Ltd.[/caption]

A complete list of results from Christie’s “The Clark Family Treasures” sale is available on Christies.com.

Those who want to learn more about the life of this mysterious and reclusive woman can read Empty Mansions and/or The Phantom of Fifth Avenue, two recently published books about Clark’s life and death.

For those who don’t love books as much as I do, don’t despair. Writer-director Ryan Murphy, the creator of Glee, reportedly has optioned the rights to Empty Mansions for a movie.
Michelle Graffis the editor-in-chief at National Jeweler, directing the publication’s coverage both online and in print.

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