For the first time since 1931, the paintings of Huguette Clark — a copper heiress who had owned the Bellosguardo estate — are being displayed with the “Huguette Marcelle Clark: A Portrait of the Artist” exhibition on view at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum.
In addition to the exhibit, a talk by journalist and author Bill Dedman is scheduled for March 16 at the museum.
Dedman, along with Clark’s cousin Paul Clark Newell Jr., wrote the biography “Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune,” which details “reclusive” Clark’s life.
The exhibit features a dozen paintings by Clark, along with a portrait of Clark painted by her mentor, Tadeusz Styka, and never-before-seen photos from Clark’s personal photo albums and scrapbooks.
“If all you know about Huguette is that she was reclusive. … I think [the exhibit] will open your eyes to how talented she was,” Dedman said. “You’ll get a different picture of her by looking at her paintings.”
Clark was born in 1906 to copper tycoon and U.S. Sen. William Clark and his second wife, Anna Eugenia LaChapelle Clark. Before purchasing the Bellosguardo estate in Santa Barbara in 1923, the family lived in Paris and their 121-room mansion in New York City.
After William Clark died, Huguette Clark and her mother spent summers in Santa Barbara and rebuilt the home after the 1925 earthquake.
While Clark owned the estate until her death in 2011 at age 104, her last visit to Bellosguardo was in the early 1950s.
All of this information and more is available as part of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum exhibit.
According to the exhibit, Clark’s first exhibition of her paintings took place at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. She then showed her art in Paris the following year.
It is also believed that Clark exhibited her art in several shows with local artists in Santa Barbara in the 1930s, Dedman said.
Dedman said that his talk at the museum will include photos of Clark and the Bellosguardo estate, as well as snippets of Clark’s voice that are also available in the “Empty Mansions” audiobook.
He also said that he will be discussing some of the Clark family’s activities in Santa Barbara.
While Clark was known as reclusive, Dedman said the family did contribute to and were involved in the local community.
“You think of her as just some recluse or that they don’t come here at all, but they had a presence,” Dedman said about the Clark family in Santa Barbara. “It’s easy to fall into assumptions — people are very comfortable making assumptions about people they never met.”
Dedman said that Clark and her mother would hold parties at the Bellosguardo estate during Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days Fiesta and that Clark made many contributions to the city to create and maintain the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge adjacent to the estate, named after Clark’s sister who died at age 16.
The beneficiary to Clark’s estate, the Bellosguardo Foundation, provided several of her paintings that are on view at the museum’s exhibit, along with some of her personal items and newspaper clippings.
The Bellosguardo Foundation also maintains the property and, according to the foundation’s website, “is committed to both honoring the Clarks’ past, and building a future where the estate can be enjoyed by all as a focal point for the arts.”
The website also states that the Bellosguardo Foundation has applied to the city for a conditional use permit in order to provide tours of the property and is “nearing the point where discretionary approval by the Planning Commission and possibly the Santa Barbara City Council is necessary.”
The “Huguette Marcelle Clark: A Portrait of the Artist” exhibit is on view at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum through June 12. Admission into the museum is free, but reservations are required for Dedman’s talk at the museum at 5:30 p.m. March 16. Reservations can be made online. Tickets are $15 for museum members and $20 for non-members.
“[The exhibit] is not just paintings on the wall,” Dedman said. “It’s trying to tell you about her.”