Sterling Clark’s grandfather, attorney Edward Clark, was a founding partner of the Singer Sewing Machine Company; in addition to inheriting a considerable fortune from his family, Sterling also acquired an active interest in collecting art. In 1909 he received further encouragement when he inherited of part of his parents’ collection.
Clark began to pursue his own collecting once he settled in Paris in 1910. His first purchases were made in 1912 and included Woodland Landscape with a Farm in the style of Meindert Hobbema, View on the Seashore by a follower of Jacob van Ruisdael, and Portrait of a Man by Hyacinthe Rigaud. During this early period, Clark’s attention was drawn particularly to Italian, Dutch, and Flemish painters. He also became interested in silver, prints, illustrated books, and drawings, which he began collecting in London with Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn’s Christ Finding the Apostles Asleep and in Paris with Jean Bourdichon’s miniature of Saint Mark. In addition to the Old Master paintings he collected between 1911 and 1921, he also acquired works by some of his favorite artists—John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, Edgar Degas, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
French paintings from the later part of the nineteenth century came to dominate the Clarks’ purchases after 1920, and these constitute the cornerstone of their collection. Over a period of forty-five years, Clark’s collecting led him from well-known masters to lesser-known artists, from works of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries to the Barbizon and Impressionist schools, from sculpture, porcelain, and silver to prints, drawings, and paintings; however, his collecting
interests did not extend into the twentieth century.
Sterling Clark’s favorite dealers included Knoedler and Durand-Ruel. Francine deeply influenced his collecting, but Clark would not engage outside advisors and he refused to associate with any museums. The Clark collection remained largely private, rarely loaned or viewed by others, with most of it in storage until the Institute opened in 1955.
Horses were Clark’s other love. His champion thoroughbred, Never Say Die, won the Derby at Epsom in 1954 and was later bequeathed to the British National Stud. This passion is visible in the collection: famous English and American horses are the subjects of a few of the paintings and many of the prints.
Together the Clarks created a very personal collection inspired by their own tastes and interests.