In the summer and early fall of 2007, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art exhibited 30 Impressionist masterpieces from the collection of Marion and Henry Bloch. In 2010 the museum announced that the Blochs had promised to give that collection to the museum. In the intervening years – specifically in late 2008 – one of those works, a Degas pastel, Dancer Making Points (Danseuse faisant des pointes), had in fact already entered the permanent collection of the Nelson-Atkins.
The story of that gift to the museum is the story not just of one, but of two philanthropic families working together for Kansas City’s benefit. It is a story that, even in broad outline, can only now be told.
Mr. and Mrs. Bloch purchased the Degas pastel in 1993 through Susan L. Brody, a trusted dealer from whom they have acquired other works of great distinction for their collection. In 1999, Mr. and Mrs. Bloch notified the museum of their promised gift to the Nelson-Atkins of their private collection, including the Degas pastel.
In 2005, the museum learned that the FBI was conducting an investigation with respect to the Degas pastel. The FBI disclosed that the work had been missing, but not necessarily that it had been stolen, since 1992. The identity of the previous owner was not disclosed to the museum.
In mid-December 2007, after the Bloch Collection exhibition featuring the Degas pastel at the Nelson-Atkins Museum had been presented, Mr. Bloch learned from the FBI that the work had previously been owned by Huguette Clark, the reclusive New York copper heiress and U.S. senator’s daughter who was an active art collector and cultural philanthropist. This history was not included in the provenance for the work provided by the dealer from whom Mr. Bloch purchased the Degas.
The FBI disclosed to Mr. Bloch that the Degas had been missing from Ms. Clark’s apartment since 1992 (the year before his purchase). Neither she nor her representatives had reported it “stolen” at that time, nor did they ever list it as lost in the appropriate registers. The FBI ended its investigation without concluding what had actually happened to the pastel.
The FBI indicated they believed that Mr. Bloch had been an innocent buyer of the Degas pastel – that he purchased the work in good faith with no knowledge that it had been previously owned by Ms. Clark.
Nonetheless, Mr. Bloch was sympathetic to Ms. Clark’s perceived loss, and in 2008 he directed his representatives to enter into discussions with Ms. Clark’s representatives to amicably resolve any outstanding questions concerning ownership of the painting. Those discussions resulted in Ms. Clark’s decision to give up whatever claim she may have had at the time to ownership of the Degas pastel to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in October 2008.
Because of Ms. Clark’s unusual degree of reclusiveness and her advanced age, the Nelson-Atkins requested – and received – a signed affidavit from her personal physician (who had been visiting her on almost a daily basis since 1991) confirming her mental capacity and competency. That affidavit was provided to the museum within two days of Ms. Clark’s deed of gift to the museum.
The deed of gift was accompanied by two unusual provisions:
The first was a letter from Ms. Clark asking the Nelson-Atkins to look favorably upon loan requests for the Degas pastel from the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Ms. Clark and her family had been loyal and generous patrons of the Corcoran over the years, and the Corcoran was notified of Ms. Clark’s request at the time.
The second provision of the gift – driven by Ms. Clark’s lifelong concern for privacy – required strict confidentiality concerning the terms of the gift, even prohibiting the Nelson-Atkins from publicly identifying or acknowledging Ms. Clark as donor of the Degas pastel to the museum. That confidentiality was recently infringed upon when the deed of gift was disclosed among papers filed in a New York court in connection with her estate.
Upon acceptance of the gift from Ms. Clark, the Nelson-Atkins made a temporary loan of the Degas pastel to Mr. Bloch so that the work could rejoin the Bloch’s own collection – a promised gift to the museum – until the Bloch Collection in its entirety is transferred to the Nelson-Atkins. While on loan, as with all of the works in the museum’s collection (whether in the exhibition galleries or in storage), the Degas pastel remains available by mutual agreement to the museum for study, scholarship and special exhibitions.
Said Henry Bloch, “The day we reached the agreement with Ms. Clark was a great day for Kansas City. Thanks to the collaboration of Huguette Clark, whose passion for the arts and great commitment to the arts institutions she loved made this gift possible, we were able to secure a permanent home in Kansas City for this beautiful pastel by Degas. When Marion and I transfer our collection to the museum, the Nelson-Atkins will be a major international center for the public enjoyment and appreciation of Impressionist art.”
Julián Zugazagoitia, director of the Nelson-Atkins, said, “Despite a highly unusual course of events and thanks to Ms. Clark’s role as an additional benefactor, Mr. Bloch has been steadfast in ensuring that the Degas pastel ends up in the museum’s collection for the benefit of the public. That was his intention when he promised the gift of his collection – which then included the Degas – in 1999, and it was again his hope during the discussions in 2008 with Ms. Clark’s representatives. We are extremely grateful for the generosity and enlightened collaboration of the Blochs and Ms. Clark.”
Huguette Clark died in May 2011 at the age of 104. Her will is being contested by her relatives. That dispute has intensified in recent months, bringing added media attention to and discussion of her actions and intentions as well as those of her representatives. Some recent news reports have focused on Ms. Clark’s gift of the Degas pastel in the context of this dispute.
“The dispute over Ms. Clark’s estate that is now working its way through the courts of New York is regrettable,” says Mr. Zugazagoitia. “It clouds Ms. Clark’s considerable legacy as a generous benefactor. We at last are now able to thank her more publicly for the gift of the Degas, which the Nelson-Atkins holds in public trust for the people of Kansas City.”
Edgar Degas, 1834–1917
Dancer Making Points (Danseuse faisant des pointes), 1879‐1880
Pastel and gouache on paper mounted on board
The Nelson‐Atkins Museum of Art