Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006



Robert Sterling Clark and his French-born wife Francine admired artists who could depict the shimmer and flow of light. This continual, ephemeral play of light upon water, fabric and human flesh animates their personal collection, on permanent display at the eponymous Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
People say this place is one of America’s best-kept secrets.
And they rave about the Clark’s fabulous collection of Impressionists, especially the Renoirs. You’ve got to see the Renoirs! they say. And they’re here, heaps of them, a whole room of delicious, succulent Renoirs. All your favourites. At the Concert. Sleeping Girl with a Cat. Onions. (Bao liked Tata, the little black dog. He would, wouldn’t he?) I like a Renoir as much as anyone, but I have to tell you: There’s lots more to the Clark Institute than Renoirs.
This is, above all, a personal collection, reflecting the tastes and preferences of its owners, and that’s the beauty of it. You either like it, or you don’t. I did. If I had as much money as the Clarks had, these are the paintings I’d buy.
There are currently two, separate shows, the first of which is a celebration of the Clark’s 50th anniversary. The Institute’s directors invited locals to vote for their favourite works in the collection, and then put the top fifty nominations on display. The people’s choice for Best in Collection was Fumee d’ambre gris (Smoke of Amergris) by John Singer Sargent, acclaimed at the Paris Salon of 1880. It is a haunting, intriguing Orientalist work, and one I’d never seen before. Even so, I would have gone for the absolutely incredible Turner, Rockets and Blue Lights. The colours, the movement, the atmosphere! I’ve never seen anything to beat it, not even at the Tate in London.
The second show was equally fascinating. Sterling (as Robert was called) and his brother Stephen were both heirs to the Singer sewing machine fortune, and they both collected art. But their tastes were different, and so were their goals. Sterling founded an art institute of his own, whereas Stephen bequeathed his collection to a number of public institutions. The brothers were estranged for most of their adult lives (the opening chapter of The Clark Brothers Collect reads like a novel) but the show (garnered from 19 Canadian and American museums plus private collections) juxtaposes their acquisitions, briefly joining two of the 20th century’s most prestigious, private collections in a wonderful tour de force.
Bao cut quite a figure as we moved through the beautiful galleries, lounging in magisterial comfort in his stroller. We looked at paintings, had lunch in the excellent Café, and then looked at more paintings. We bought books in the book shop. It was too hot to stroll through the grounds, but we did sit on the grass in the shade alongside the lake, admiring the ducks and the lily-pads. We had a lovely, lovely day.
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is a must see. Put it on your list.

1 Comments:

Blogger ENERGISE said...

sounds like a fascinating gallery
stillsnuffling in freezing Sydney !
how hot is it ?

9:41 AM

 

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