Nicholas Fox Weber, author of the acclaimed Patron Saints (“Exhilarating avant-garde entertainment”—Sam Hunter, The New York Times Book Review) and Balthus (“The authoritative account of his life and work”—Michael Ravitch, Newsday), gives us now the idiosyncratic lives of Sterling and Stephen Clark—two of America’s greatest art collectors, heirs to the Singer sewing machine fortune, and for decades enemies of each other. He tells the story, as well, of the two generations that preceded theirs, giving us an intimate portrait of one of the least known of America’s richest families.
He begins with Edward Clark—the brothers’ grandfather, who amassed the Clark fortune in the late-nineteenth century—a man with nerves of steel; a Sunday school teacher who became the business partner of the wild inventor and genius Isaac Merritt Singer. And, by the turn of the twentieth century, was the major stockholder of the Singer Manufacturing Company.
We follow Edward’s rise as a real estate wizard making headlines in 1880 when he commissioned Manhattan’s first luxury apartment building. The house was called “Clark’s Folly”; today it’s known as the Dakota.
We see Clark’s son—Alfred—enigmatic and famously reclusive; at thirty-eight he inherited $50 million and became one of the country’s richest men. An image of propriety—good husband, father of four—in Europe, he led a secret homosexual life. Alfred was a man with a passion for art and charity, which he passed on to his four sons, in particular Sterling and Stephen Clark.
Sterling, the second-oldest, buccaneering and controversial, loved impressionism, created his own museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts—and shocked his family by marrying an actress from the Comédie Française. Together the Sterling Clarks collected thousands of paintings and bred racehorses.
In a highly public case, Sterling sued his three brothers over issues of inheritance, and then never spoke to them again.
He was one of the central figures linked to a bizarre and little-known attempted coup against Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency. We are told what really happened and why—and who in American politics was implicated but never prosecuted.
Sterling’s brother—Stephen—self-effacing and responsible—became chairman and president of the Museum of Modern Art and gave that institution its first painting, Edward Hopper’s House by the Railroad. Thirteen years later, in an act that provoked intense controversy, Stephen dismissed the Museum’s visionary founding director, Alfred Barr, who for more than a decade had single-handedly established the collection and exhibition programs that determined how the art of the twentieth century was regarded.
Stephen gave or bequeathed to museums many of the paintings that today are still their greatest attractions.
With authority, insight, and a flair for evoking time and place, Weber examines the depths of the brothers’ passions, the vehemence of their lifelong feud, the great art they acquired, and the profound and lasting impact they had on artistic vision in America.
About the Author
Nicholas Fox Weber<b> </b>was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and graduated from Columbia College and Yale University. He has curated retrospectives of the work of Josef Albers and Anni Albers, and is the director of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. He is the author of twelve previous books. He lives in Bethany, Connecticut, and Paris.
“Mesmerizing. An engrossing adventure into American cultural history. Truly a wonderful achievement.”
–Francine du Plessix Gray
“[A] fine new study . . . an unusually rewarding family portrait. Weber is to be congratulated for telling this story with admirable restraint, and looking upon his subjects with kindness and sympathy, and without succumbing to melodrama.”
–Michael Lewis, The New York Sun
“Extraordinarily well researched.”
–Alex Beam, The Boston Globe
“The absorbing and remarkable chronicle of the talented family that owned the Singer Sewing Mahine company, from the business genius who developed it, to his wealthy son and heir who managed to reconcile a life of respectable domesticity at home with one of aesthetic homosexuality abroad, and ending with the two brilliant grandsons, always at bitter odds with each other, whose great art collections have enriched our culture.”
–Louis S. Auchincloss
“Weber portrays the Clarks with splendid animation and a deep understanding of the passion for art. Weber’s exquisitely sensitive yet hugely entertaining group portrait of the Clarks is a potent tale of family and wealth, anguish and the solace of art.”
–Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“Weber’s delightfully written study includes much insightful psychological speculation about these larger-than-life men.”
“An illuminating double biography of philanthropist art collectors Sterling and Stephen Clark. Weber’s insights into the Clarks’ complex personalities are supplemented by his knowledgeable analyses of the art they collected, including such individual paintings as Van Gogh’s The Night Café, Cezanne’s The Card Players, Bonnard’s The Breakfast Room and Seurat’s Circus Sideshow. Genuinely rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable.”
–Kirkus (starred review)