A Twisted Tale Behind Huguette Clark's $10 Million Degas

  • March 19, 2012 11:28

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Once part of Huguette Clark's collection is Edgar Degas' "Dancer Making Points."
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

An exquisite image by French Impressionist Edgar Degas, valued at $10 million, is at the center of yet another puzzle involving the estate of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark, according to msnbc.com.

The pastel and gouache painting of a ballerina, one of Degas’ favorite subjects, called “Dancer Making Points,” is currently in another collection.  However, that could change, as the road that took it there was somewhat rocky, as reported by Bill Dedman.

Provenance for the painting is straightforward up to a point.

It was sold at a gallery in Paris in 1927, then passed to the French collector Georges Lévy.  Levy eventually brought his collection to America in 1939-1940 in order to elude the Nazis.  Huguette Clark or her mother bought the painting sometime before 1955.

Where the controversy arises from is when and how “Dancer Making Points” made it out of Huguette Clark’s 5th Avenue apartment in New York City.

Clark spent the last 20 years of her life living in hospital rooms, the 5th Avenue apartment essentially deserted. She died at a New York hospital at age 104, in May 2011.

Clark’s attorney, Donald Wallace, discovered the Degas was missing a year or so after the heiress had left the residence. There was speculation that a member of the building staff had taken it and talk that a doorman had seen it next to a trash bin in the building, but to this day no one really knows the circumstances under which it vanished. 

Clark discouraged anyone from pursuing the disappearance as she valued her privacy above all things.  She didn’t file an insurance claim or register the missing Degas on the Art Loss Register and she encouraged the FBI, whom someone had called in, to forget about it.

Eventually, the painting turned up again at a New York City gallery just down the road from the Clark residence.  The Peter Findlay Gallery bought the artwork from a young man who claimed it had been in his family for years; Findlay had no reason to disbelieve him as the painting did not show up as stolen. The gallery in turn sold it to Henry and Marion Bloch—he is the H in H & R Bloch---who had been in New York shopping for art. 

When Clark learned that the Blochs had the Degas in their possession, the two parties sought to work things out as quietly as possible.  The agreement struck between the two is that Clark would donate the painting, and receive the tax credit, to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City of which the Blochs were avid patrons. 

However, before the museum would accept the donation, they demanded a sworn statement from Clark’s doctor to verify that she was of sound mind and competent to make the gift.

That statement, along with her will, is now being called into question by Clark’s disinherited family, making the fate of the Degas uncertain, along with her $400 million estate.

 Read more Clark stories: http://clark.msnbc.com.

(Please note: An earlier version of this story on ARTFIXdaily incorrectly stated that the Degas is residing in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The painting is in the Bloch collection.)


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