Their Singer Sewing Machine Fortune -- Their Great and Influential Art Collections -- Their 40 Year Feud
On Sale: May 8, 2007
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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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
gave or bequeathed to museums many of the paintings that
today are still their greatest attractions.
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.
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