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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Private Patronage Lives!

Before there was government funding for the arts, the arts flourished under private patronage. Somewhat lost in the debate about de/funding the National Endowment for the Arts is the fact that the age-old private-patronage tradition lives on:

When copper heiress Huguette Clark died last month, just shy of her 105th birthday, it was revealed that she had earmarked most of her $400 million fortune for the arts, setting up the Bellosguardo Foundation. The bequest includes a sprawling estate, antique musical instruments, rare books, and an art collection with works by Monet, Renoir, John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase.

Separately, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC will receive an original 1907 Monet “Water Lilies, valued at $25 million, which hasn't been seen by the public for eighty years.

Huguette inherited her fortune from her father, William Andrews Clark, who served briefly as a U.S. Senator. Clark built railroads across the United States, and Las Vegas’ Clark County was named after him.

Created "for the primary purpose of fostering and promoting the arts, the foundation was is named “Bellosguardo” after the 24-acre Santa Barbara, CA estate. The 21,000 square-foot mansion, which will house the art collection, is set on overlooking the city and the Pacific Ocean and is surrounded by formal gardens. It sits across the street from the Santa Barbara Zoo and the Andree Clark Bird Refuge, named after her sister, AndrĂ©e, who died of meningitis at the age of 16.

Ms. Clark had not set foot this home since 1963, but had kept the property immaculately maintained. Huguette had become increasingly reclusive over the years, fearful that people were only after her money. She was last photographed in 1930.

It’s early yet, so details of how the foundation will be administered are unknown. Will grants be made to artists, or will the Bellosguardo Foundation concentrate exclusively on programs at the mansion itself? I suspect it will be somewhat Barnesian: carrying out its mission through teaching, research, and other programs, along with allowing public access to the collection. The Barnes Collection, also made up largely of late 19th- and early 20th-century European paintings, is housed on a 12-acre estate in suburban Philadelphia, is open to the public on a limited reservation basis.

At the very least, we can look forward to another extraordinary museum in California, brought to us by America's 19th- and early 20th-century industrialists.