Professor of Art History Michael Lewis writes on the family behind the Clark Art Institute.

America has more than its share of eccentric art patrons — one thinks of Henry Frick, that scourge of union organizers, or Albert Barnes, who took malicious pleasure in barring art historians from his cloistered collection — but nothing quite like the querulous Clark brothers. Stephen and Sterling Clark absorbed from their dilettantish father a taste for fine art and, as heirs to the mighty Singer sewing machine company, the means to indulge it. Yet their aesthetic and personal styles could not have been more different, and their paths increasingly diverged, culminating in 1923 with a bloody fistfight in the family boardroom that ended all contact.

Who won the fistfight? I hope that it was our Sterling. More here.

Sterling, who was the second eldest, was an adventurer with an Old World sensibility. After graduating from Yale, he joined the army and fought in the Philippines and China. In 1910, he settled in Paris, where he married an actress from the Comédie Française and restored a mansion in the 16th Arrondissement. Through decorating his house, he began collecting art — starting with old masters, and later “moderns” like John Singer Sargent and Renoir. But “[h]e drew the line at Cézanne,” whom he believed couldn’t paint, Ms. Stein said. “He stopped at the artists who broke the rules.” When Stephen began to collect, Sterling often criticized his purchases, telling him he had spent too much, or that the works he’d gotten were not authentic.

Younger brothers can be so extravagant . . .

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