Impressionist and Early Modern Paintings
The Clark Brothers Collect
May 22–August 19, 2007
Accompanied by a catalogue
More than sixty-five celebrated masterpieces owned by rival brother collectors—Robert Sterling Clark (1877–1956), founder of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and Stephen Carlton Clark (1882–1960), a former trustee and illustrious donor to The Metropolitan Museum of Art—are featured in this unprecedented exhibition.
Never before seen together, the most treasured paintings from Sterling Clark's collection—including works by Degas, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Homer, and Sargent—are seen side-by-side with commanding works by Cézanne, Seurat, Matisse, Picasso, Eakins, and Hopper, which held pride of place in Stephen Clark's collection. The brothers' "silent rivalry" is given currency through works that invite comparison, such as two early self-portraits by Degas and similar rustic scenes by Homer and Remington, from their respective collections. Their mutual admiration for Renoir is highlighted in grand form by the artist's Sleeping Girl with a Cat and At the Concert from Sterling's collection, and A Waitress at Duval’s Restaurant and Madame Henriot in Costume, from Stephen's collection. The exhibition provides a unique opportunity to appreciate the remarkable legacies of these two brothers, both heirs to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune and native New Yorkers, who played notable but ultimately divergent roles as patrons of the arts in the United States.
Robert Sterling Clark and Stephen Carlton Clark enjoyed a culturally rich upbringing in New York. At age twenty-two, Sterling set off to explore the world, finally settling in Paris in 1910, having fallen for a French actress, whom he later married. Stephen, five years younger, remained at home to oversee the family's financial empire and to raise four children with his wife.
Both men began collecting art in their thirties, shortly after moving into their new homes in 1911. Sterling renovated a Parisian town house to its former splendor and sought out premium old masters worthy of the museum he imagined founding. Back in New York, Stephen was buying modern art—straight from the groundbreaking 1913 Armory show—for his newly built Manhattan town house. Pressed for an opinion on an apt location for the museum Sterling had in mind, Stephen replied, "[I]t would probably be better to just go ahead collecting any good pictures which you may run across, but to defer building any gallery for them until you are absolutely sure of what you want to do with them."
A decade later, in 1923, the two came to blows over the equitable distribution of their trusts; they remained estranged for the rest of their lives.
The elder brother saw his early dream become a reality in 1955 with the founding of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The collection he had quietly assembled and kept from view for forty years came as a stunning revelation to the public. Meanwhile, Stephen Clark had just gone on "collecting any good pictures" he came across, often placing them in one of the many museums he supported during his lifetime and with the extraordinary bequests he made in 1960.