The Clark Museum in Williamstown, MA

Robert Sterling Clark, heir to the Singer Sewing Machine Company, married Francine Clark, former actress at the Comedie-Francaise, and they shared a love of all things “art,” especially paintings and sculptures. Eventually, the question, “What will happen to them?” came up. Maybe they ran out of room in their house, or maybe, my “tax-accountant spidey-sense” says, they realized that their heirs were going to have to sell them, so why not make it a public gift instead of letting these all disappear into other collectors’ homes? Mr. and Mrs. Clark had enjoyed the collecting and the collection for many years already, so why not share?

Having jumped the hurdle of that decision, the next was how to make the donation. Where would it be? Who would manage it? Their desire was to make the collection available for learning about the arts, about composition, color, technique, and history, too. And the public should see it, to encourage appreciation of the arts and the ways that arts enrich our lives, even beyond school.

The Clarks chose Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The building was officially begun in 1953, with a dedication of the cornerstone:


Cornerstone dedication, August 26, 1953

The museum opened its doors in 1955. There were only two galleries, displaying a fraction of their collection. More were displayed over time, slowly unveiling the width and depth of the works.

Sterling Clark died in 1956, and four years later, Francine Clark followed him. At that time, 1960, the museum received an additional sizable endowment from the Clarks, which was used to build an art history library so that Williams College could establish and staff a graduate program, a major goal of the endowment. “In 1972, the first graduate class entered the Clark in an innovative program co-sponsored by Williams College and the Clark.” (

If you enjoy art and you come near Williamstown, located in western Massachusetts, it’s definitely worth the stop. The collection is wonderful, and there’s a cafe, so you can take an intermission. I recommend the turkey panini. Here are some of the things I saw during my visit.

“The Elm Tree” c. 1880 Oil on canvas by George Inness, American, 1825-1894
“The Color of Night” by Frederic Remington, American, 1861 – 1909 (I thought I had the painting-specific information, but after I returned “home,” I discovered I did not and I haven’t been able to find it online. Sorry. It was one of my favorites. I was drawn by the sky at dusk.)
“Dismounted: The Fourth Troopers Moving the Led Horses” c.1890 Oil on canvas by Frederic Remington, American, 1861 – 1909 One of those things about fighting I didn’t know: If you called in the cavalry, soldiers arrived at battle in groups of four; three dismounted and the fourth led the horses away so they wouldn’t get shot at. Presumably, the horses were grouped & the soldiers joined the fight, but I don’t really know & it wasn’t explained.
My favorite. “The Bridle Path, White Mountains” 1868 Oil on canvas by Winslow Homer, 1836 – 1910 The placard says that the woman on horseback, “lost in thought” and separated from her companions, represents the growing independence of middle-class women. She may also be wondering why she has to ride sidesaddle.
“Rouen Cathedral, the Facade in Sunlight” c. 1892 – 94 Oil on canvas Monet, French, 1840 – 1926. I included this painting for a friend in Auburn, NY, who paints. Her work reminds me of Monet.
“Onions” 1881 Oil on canvas by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, 1841 – 1919 “Clear light and fluid brushstrokes define the onions’ round, solid forms and capture the shiny, papery quality of their skins. Sterling Clark often stated that this was his favorite of the many paintings by Renoir in his collection.” Clark acquired this painting in 1922.
“The Messiah” 1867 Terracotta by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, French, 1828-1887 The placard at the base makes note of the crucifixion-like pose of the infant Jesus as an artistic expression of Jesus’ fate yet-to-be.
“Madame Escudier” circa 1883 Oil on canvas by John Singer Sargent, American, 1856 – 1925. Sargent’s talent is apparent in the personality exuded by Mme Escudier’s face. Sargent was born of American parents in Florence, Italy, and died in London, England. He made several trips to the United States to do commissioned portraits, but it seems he was never a permanent resident. The Sargent portrait most familiar to Americans probably would be President Theodore Roosevelt.
“Tea Service of Famous Women” Painted by Marie-Victoire Jaquetot, Manufactured by Sevres Porcelain Manufactory. The Vincennes porcelain factory, founded in the early 1700s, was the “manufacture royale” in France, but in 1756 moved to the village of Sevre and adopted the village name. Most, but not all, of the famous women are members of various European royal houses: Catherine the Great, Maria-Theresa of Austria, Elizabeth I, Christina of Sweden, and several others. Joan of Arc was an exception, and the only non-royal that was familiar to me.
“Man Reading” circa 1648 Oil on canvas Attributed to Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch, 1606 – 1669. For many years, this painting was thought to be of a specific individual, but recent research suggests it to be a “tronie,” a work used in the 1600s to explore facial expressions and clothing. The warm light and soft shadows are typical of Rembrandt’s work. The Clarks bought it in 1923 as an original Rembrandt. In the past forty years, however, it was thought to be a work by one of his followers. In the fluid world of art, it has recently been attributed once again to Rembrandt himself by Ernst van de Wetering, a leading expert on Rembrandt, who died in 2021.
“Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” Modeled 1879-81, cast 1919-21 Edgar Degas, French, 1834 – 1917. Bronze with gauze tutu and silk ribbon, on wooden base. A version of this work was exhibited at the 1881 Impressionist exhibition, and it is the only sculpture Degas showed publicly during his lifetime. There is more in the paragraphs below.

The version of the Little Dancer that was exhibited in 1881, the original, is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It was sculpted in wax and had a sewn tulle skirt, a human hair wig, and a silk hair ribbon. After Degas died in 1917, the Degas estate chose to preserve the Little Dancer by having it cast in bronze. At least twenty-seven bronze versions were made at the Hebrard Foundry between 1919 and 1930, one of which was purchased by the Clarks. It is pictured above.

Degas’ sculpture began as a series of drawings. He made twenty-six drawings of the model, the fourteen-year-old aspiring ballerina Marie van Goethem, between 1878 and 1881, in detail so well-done that one writer commented that the young girl seemed about to “walk off her pedestal,” and declared Little Dancer “the first truly modern attempt at sculpture.” (Joris-Karl Huysmanns, as quoted by The Clark Museum)

Although the sculpture today is considered a masterpiece, the contemporary world of Degas’ time was not as impressed. Degas had chosen realism over idealism, which went against the artistic conventions of the time. Little Dancer depicted an amateur of modest means rather than a star of the ballet, a more traditional choice.

But it was not only the choice of subject that was unconventional. Previous sculptures relied upon a single material – stone, wood, metal – to create a work. Degas had incorporated human hair and actual textiles into his sculpture.

It was a landmark moment in 19th century art.

“Carmen” c. 1884 Oil on canvas Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, French, 1864 – 1901. “When Toulouse-Lautrec first spotted Carmen Gaudin in Montmartre, he exclaimed to a friend, ‘How tough she looks! It would be marvelous to get her as a model.’ Gaudin consented and Toulouse-Lautrec painted her a number of occasions over several years. In this portrait, her expression is guarded, but her fiery hair and uncompromising frontal pose suggest something of the toughness that initially captured the artist’s imagination.” Comments by the Clark Museum curator.

I am always tempted to include too many photos from my museum visits. It is a wonderful way to spend a day, enjoying the talents of so many souls, most of them now departed.

The donors, Mr. and Mrs. Clark:

Robert Sterling Clark
Francine J.M. Clark

And one more, because I just can’t resist:

“Fumee d’ambre gris” (Smoke of the Ambergris c.1880 John Singer Sargent, American, 1856 – 1925. “A woman holds part of her elaborate garment over a silver censer to capture the perfumed smoke of smouldering ambergris. A waxy substance extracted from whales, ambergris was used in some religious rituals and was also said to have aphrodisiac qualities. Sargent began this painting in Tangier, with a model posed on the patio of a rented house, but he completed it in his Paris studio. The finished painting presents a fantasy for Western eyes, combining details of costume and setting adapted from different regions across North Africa.” (Notes by the Clark Museum curator.)

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