Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Alas poor Huguette

Sheep Meadow in Central Park. 4:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Very warm yesterday but not unseasonal, with temperatures in the 70s by mid-afternoon. Sunny.
A walk with JH up Park Avenue with Rafael Barrios' sculptures and environs.
Life as allegory. Huguette Clark died a year ago this coming May 24th. She was two weeks from her 105th birthday. She was very rich and until a reporter uncovered her long forgotten identity, she was totally unknown to the world, including her neighbors.

She wasn’t totally unknown and forgotten in the end because of the money. Many many millions, undetermined at the time, but riches in real estate, jewels, cash and securities all the legacy of her father William A. Clark, one time Senator from Montana and a multimillionaire whose fortune originated with copper mining stocks and claims. Senator Clark died in 1925. In his lifetime he had had two wives and two families. Huguette was a member of the second family and the youngest of his children.

Copper heiress Huguette M. Clark, circa 1920s.
What made Huguette a story for today’s media was her theretofore publicly unknown wealth and her extreme reclusiveness – she lived the last three decades of her life in a hospital room in Beth Israel Medical Center. Even though she had a floor and a half of apartments on 907 Fifth Avenue at 72nd Street, a mansion in Connecticut and a mansion in Santa Barbara. One or both of those houses were properties she never saw. The New York apartments had been occupied by her and her mother Anna, who died at 75 in 1963.

When I first wrote about her story which by then had first been broken in the media, I heard from two NYSD readers – one in London and another in British Columbia, who had known Huguette when they were young people because their fathers’ served the family professionally. One of the readers’ godmothers’ was Anna Clark, Huguette’s mother. Both were frequent visitors to 907 when they were young. The atmosphere was quiet but pleasant.

The Clarks were always distinguished even by those who knew them, by their great wealth, as is frequently the case among the very wealthy. Senator Clark had beforehand been a well known character for that reason, and later, in certain circles (galleries, dealers, museums) for his art collection. He especially gained attention for the palatial limestone mansion he built at 952 Fifth Avenue where Huguette spent her formative years. Clark had many powerful connections, but he was not well-liked. It was Mark Twain who recalled him as just about the worst human being he’d ever met. What he meant beyond that statement is not known.

Recent accounts of family life inferred that the family were members of New York society of the day. While the Senator had a certain social sway that comes with great financial power, and they lived as extravagantly and grandly, even moreso than many other members of Society, they were basically regarded as arriviste and hampered by the old man’s reputation in business and in politics, as well as the enemies he kept.

Self-portrait by Huguette Clark.
Huguette, for reasons unknown to anyone alive today – or maybe ever, was a diffident child. She was artistic (and became a very able portraitist and painter) and loved music and the arts. When she died, she left a huge doll collection which she had acquired as a connoisseur. However, from an early adult age, while she lived in one of the apartments at 907 and her mother lived in the larger one, her social sphere was small and narrow. “Oh that’s just Huguette,” was a standard explanation that family and family friends had for her “oddness.”

She had had a marriage briefly when she was in her early 20s (three years after her father died) and a divorce the following year. When she was in her forties, she was “wooed” by a French nobleman but the family lawyers quashed that before it could lead to the altar. Their decision made her very unhappy but her mother was on their side. After that she was a poor little rich girl and well regarded as such by many who knew her and had no other explanation for her somewhat anti-social behavior. Nothing was expected of her in terms of a conventional life. “Oh that’s just Huguette” was the standard response to its outcome.

You can see that it was probably a very lonely, even alienated existence of splendid isolation. Did the isolation affect her social intercourse, or was it a symptom of deeper troubles. Those who knew her remembered her as kind and gentle, often speaking, answering the phone, with a French accent – even though she grew up and went to school in New York (her mother was of French descent, and her parents had lived in France where Huguette was born).

Her mother, Anna Eugenia La Chapelle had gone to live with Senator Clark when she was 15, and was described as his “ward.” A few years later in 1902 she gave birth to their first child -- a girl named Louise Amelia Andree. Four years later Huguette was born. Andree, as she was called, died at 17 of meningitis. Huguette lost what might have been her only real ally in her life.

William A. Clark and daughters Andrée (left) and Huguette (right), c. 1917.
Was she really mentally impaired, or was it more like taking a religious vow that separated her from all others on a very intimate level? Or was it fear? She was obviously a healthy woman when she put herself in a hospital in her 80th year. Why a hospital room? Was it security, protection? If so, from what? From whom? From ghosts of an unrevealed, dark past?

Something, someone caused a final shutdown long before its time.
By the time she died in the hospital at that late stage, her “friends” were those who served her. Nurses, lawyers, accountants. Her estate was estimated in the hundreds of millions. The largest part of the estate went to charity, although tens of millions went to a “friend” who looked after her in hospital. There were other relatives, descendants of her father’s first family, but they were not in the will. Although the lawyer and the accountant were both from Central Casting for the Perils of Pauline.

Alas poor Huguette. Her jewels were sold at auction yesterday at Christie’s. The original estimate for the 17 items in the sale was $6 to $12 million. However, a large, rare pink 9 carat diamond alone brought $15 million. It had been acquired from Dreicer & Company of Paris in 1910, probably for Anna Clark, as had most of the other items which were in turn inherited by Huguette.

The total sale was more than $20 million with commissions, the second largest estate jewelry sale this year (after Elizabeth Taylor’s estate auction). Most of the jewels had been kept in a vault since the 1940s when Huguette was still a young woman in her 30s. It may be that she rarely saw and just as rarely wore them, if at all. Like so many other worldly goods she possessed, Huguette had no interest in or use for them. In the end, it seemed that maybe Huguette had given up any real use for life in general long, long ago. She just happened to live a very long time, as fate would have it. Alone with her unspoken, if not unexpressed, fears. The ones that always grow and haunt with time.
Lot 304
Set with a modified cushion-cut fancy vivid purplish pink diamond, weighing approximately 9.00 carats, to the single-cut diamond prongs, gallery and shoulders, mounted in platinum, circa 1910
Signed D & Co. for Dreicer & Co
With report 2145476525 dated 22 February 2012 from the Gemological Institute of America stating that the diamond is fancy vivid purplish pink, natural color, SI1 clarity

Estimate 6,000,000 - 8,000,000 U.S. dollars
Price realized: 15,762,500 U.S. dollars
Lot 293
Set with a rectangular-cut diamond, weighing approximately 19.86 carats, flanked on either side by a baguette-cut diamond, mounted in platinum, in a Cartier red leather box
Signed Cartier
Estimate 2,000,000 - 3,000,000 U.S. dollars
Price realized: 3,106,500 U.S. dollars
Lot 302
Of seventy-three graduated natural pearls, measuring from approximately 4.65 to 7.80 mm, joined by an oval-cut diamond clasp, mounted in platinum, 18 ins., in a Tiffany & Co. beige leather case
Signed Tiffany & Co.

Estimate: 20,000 - 30,000 U.S. dollars
Price realized: 362,500 U.S. dollars
Lot 296
Designed as a series of bezel-set cabochon rubies, sapphires and emeralds, to the flexible three-row band designed as a series of smaller cabochon rubies, sapphires and emeralds, mounted in gold, circa 1915, 7¼ ins.
Signed Tiffany & Co., no. 4199, possibly by Louis Comfort Tiffany

Estimate: 30,000 - 50,000 U.S. dollars
Price realized: 266,500 U.S. dollars
The sunnier side. Last night at Scully & Scully, the Fund for Park Avenue invited many New Yorkers to a cocktail reception to celebrate the 2012 Park Avenue tulips (Darwin Hybrid Golden Oxfords) and the work of the Fund.

Scully & Scully are big supporters of the Fund. Michael Scully, president of the firm said that “for 32 of our 78 years, we have had a beautiful ‘front lawn’” every Springtime because of the Fund.
The reception last night featured tables inspired by New York centric books -- Hilary Geary and Harry Benson’s fabulous “New York, New York” book of prominent New Yorkers of the past 40 years, Jamee Gregory’s “New York Parties, Private Views,” “Rooftop Gardens: The Terraces, Conservatories, and Balconies of New York" by Denise LeFrak Calicchio and Roberta Amon, "Living Traditions" by Mathew Patrick Smyth, and Melissa Morris’ May-December blog.

The Fund for Park Avenue has been caring for the malls since 1980.  Through its two privately-supported beautification programs – the Park Avenue Malls Planting Project  and the Park Avenue Tree Lighting, The Fund raises and spends nearly $1 million annually to ensure that the malls are beautifully planted and maintained throughout the year.  
Rooftop Gardens: The Terraces, Conservatories, and Balconies of New York
By Denise LeFrak Calicchio and Roberta Amon

Hand painted botanical porcelain with an occasional critter transport you to a fantasy garden. The addition of simple stemware and gingham place mats brings rooftop dining to a new elegance.
Living Traditions
By Mathew Patrick Smyth

A Modern Empire style porcelain service sets the tone for Mathew's table. Traditional cut crystal is update in modern shapes and portions underscoring Mathew's classic design aesthetic.
New York, New York
By Hilary Geary Ross & Harry Benson

Innovative and bold; the delicate Meissen floral creates a dramatic contrasts with the chocolate chargers. Beautifully etched glass brings out the feminine side of this hostess.
New York Parties: Private Views
By Jamee Gregory

Festive, colorful, and cheerful represents hostess Jamee Gregory. Delicately painted Herend porcelain is mixed with the colorful cut glasses to put you in a party mood.
The May- December Blog
By Melissa Morris

Preppy Navy & Red - think of the Hamptons, Newport, Nantucket, or Palm Beach and you get the idea of the cheerful occasion. Melissa Morris has interpreted this Hermes favorite in a fresh new way suitable for lunch or dinner.
Among those attending were: Fund Directors: Ronald D. Spencer, Esq (Chairman), Mary Davidson, Eugenie Niven Goodman, Derek L. Limbocker, Helena Martinez, George B. Moore, Judith T. Steckler, Margaret M. Ternes and Ron Wendt.  Ex Officio: Adrian Benepe (Commissioner, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation).Pat Altshul, James Andrew, Muffie Potter Aston, Patricia and Stephen Attoe, Charles Bergman, William Bernhard, Geoffrey Bradfield, Jake Bright, Evie and Bates Brown, Mario Buatta, John Calicchio, Catherine and Bryan Carey, William Castro (Manhattan Borough Commissioner, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation), Robin Cofer, Ann Colley, Dr. and Mrs. John Espy, Jamie Figg, Ken and Maria Fischel, Eleni and Randall Gianopulos, Martha and John Glass, Lisa and Philip Gorrivan, Ellery and Marjorie Reed Gordon, Peter Gregory, Mame and Monte Hackett, Ted Hartley, Leslie and Andrew Heaney, Eileen and Robert Judell, Konrad Keesee, Eleanora Kennedy, Susie and Doug Kerridge, Karen Klopp, Margo Langenberg, Nicole Limbocker, Robert Lindgren and Tom Gibb, Carol Lyden, Roman Martinez, Martha McLanahan, Kevin McLaughlin, Alison Minton, Chappy Morris, Paola Quadretti, Jennifer Raab (President of Hunter College), Wilbur Ross, Anna Safir, Lisa and Bob Semple, Jean Shafiroff,  John Stern, Natasha and Richard Stowe, Neal and Ruth Underberg, Mikel and Joe Witte.
Roberta Amon, Denise LeFrak Calicchio, Eleni Gianopulos, and Barbara McLaughlin.
Jean Shafiroff, Jamie Figg, and Barbara McLaughlin. Marjorie Reed Gordon.
Matthew Patrick Smyth.
Jake Bright. Dennis Scully, Victoria Straussby, and Alastair.
Eleanora Kennedy, Jamee Gregory, Hilary Geary Ross, and Muffie Potter Aston.
John Calicchio and Denise LeFrak. Georgina Schaeffer.
Frederick and Robin Withington.
James Andrew. Susie Branch and John Glass.
Jamie Figg, Margo Langenberg, and Adam Nashban.
Eliza Nordeman and Eugenie Goodman. Alison Minton.
Ron Wendt, Evie Brown, and Mark Gilbertson.
Mario Buatta, Pat Altshult, and Mark Gilbertson.
Michel Witmer. Leigh Keno and Amy Sheldon.
Roric Tobin, Geoffrey Bradfield, Gloria Mueller, and Mimi Strong
Chappy and Melissa Morris. Amy Hoadley.
Nicole Limbocker and Polly Espy.
Ambassador Edward Ney and Bill Bernhard.

Photographs by (Fund for Park Avenue)

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