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Personal Series

Personal Series

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Sterling and Francine Clark Papers:

Personal Series

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Archives
225 South St.
Williamstown, MA 01267

March 31, 2009

Profile Description

Creation: Finding aid encoded by Lacy SchutzMarch 7, 2007
Language: Finding aid written in English.

A Guide to the Personal Series

Repository:Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Archives
225 South St.
Williamstown, MA 01267
Creator:Clark, Robert Sterling, (1877-1956)
Title: Personal Series
Dates: 1901 - 1957 (inclusive)
Dates: 1920 - 1957 (bulk)
Quantity:5.2 linear ft., 11 boxes
Abstract:This is a series of personal items, divided into six subseries: documents; medical records; writings; horses; inventories; and ephemera.
Identification: CAI ARC 2006.01.03
Language: English, French

Arrangement of the Papers

This series is divided into six subseries, by document type and / or subject matter. See the series descriptions for a more detailed explanation.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

This series contains miscellaneous documents, records and ephemera accumulated by RSC and Francine.

Biographical Note

Born in 1877, Robert Sterling Clark, along with his three brothers, was heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune. Their father, Alfred Corning Clark, was the son of Edward Corning Clark, Isaac Singer’s business partner. RSC attended Yale University and graduated in 1899 with a degree in engineering. He joined the army and his service during the Boxer Rebellion earned him the commission of first lieutenant. In 1908, RSC undertook an expedition to the Shaanxi and Gansu provinces in a remote area of northern China. He intended to carry out ethnographic and zoological research, as well as conduct surveys and create maps. His partner in this undertaking was Arthur de Carle Sowerby. Sowerby, in addition to being a naturalist, explorer, artist and editor, collected specimens for the British Museum and other museums of natural history in the United States and China. The expedition came to an abrupt end when Hazrat Ali, their translator and surveyor, was murdered.

Shortly thereafter, RSC moved to Paris. In 1909 he inherited various pieces of art from his family and these pieces became the foundation of the collection he was to build over the ensuing decades. He made his first purchases in 1912 and was initially attracted primarily to Dutch, Flemish and Italian old masters. Soon, his interests expanded to include silver, prints and drawings, rare books, and more contemporary artists such as Renoir, Degas, Sargent and Homer.

During this time RSC met Francine Clary. Formerly an actress with the Comedie Francaise, Francine was the mother of a daughter, Viviane Modzelewska. Francine and RSC began seeing one another in 1910, but didn’t marry until 1919. Their relationship was a source of tension with RSC’s family and eventually led to a rift between him and his brother, Stephen. Stephen, the youngest of the Clark brothers, had shouldered the daily administration of the family’s fortunes. RSC felt that he was at a disadvantage because of the way the Singer trusts were constructed. Should something befall RSC, the money would pass back into the Clark family rather than to Francine and her daughter. When he was unable to resolve the issue within the family, he and Stephen had a falling out that would never be mended and RSC sued unsuccessfully in court to break up the trusts.

RSC and Francine were partners in assembling the collections that would eventually be housed at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, visiting galleries and dealers together. Another keen interest was horse breeding. RSC owned large operations that bred, raised and trained racehorses, first in Belgium and then in Virginia. In 1951, his horse, Never Say Die, won the Epsom Derby, the first American-bred horse ever to do so.

After considering various options for the eventual disposition of their artworks and objects, including donation to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and founding a museum in New York City, RSC and Francine decided to locate their collections in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Beginning in 1950 and continuing through RSC’s death late in 1956, their lives were focused on building the Institute, both physically and administratively.

Index Terms


Clark, Francine, d. 1960
Clark, Robert Sterling, 1877-1956
Clark, Stephen Carlton, 1882-1960
Grayson, Cary T


Blood-Horse, Inc.
Lloyd's (Firm)
Opéra-Comique (Paris, France)
Singer Sewing Machine Company
Williams College


Animal pedigrees
Opéra-Comique (Paris, France)
Paris (France)

Document Types:

Appointment books
Business cards
Drivers’ licenses
Insurance policies
Journals (Periodicals)
Magazines (Periodicals)
Medical records
Membership cards
Printed ephemera
Sheet music
Theater programs


Restrictions on Access

This material is currently restricted.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[Cite the item (as appropriate)], Personal Series, Sterling and Francine Clark Papers, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Acquisition Information

These items were scattered among the materials that became the Correspondence Series and the Financial Records Series.

Processing Information

Items that could not be included in the Correspondence or the Financial Records series were gathered for the Personal Series and sorted by type. Where feasible, these materials are organized by date. Lacy Schutz, Archivist, and Danielle Ryan, Archives Assistant, processed this series during January and February of 2007.

Related Material

On the occasion of the Clark Art Institute’s 50th anniversary, the Clark published: The Clark brothers collect: impressionist and early modern paintings / Michael Conforti ... [et al.]; with additional contributions by Daniel Cohen-McFall ... [et al.], Williamstown, Mass., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2006.

In addition, the Clark has published a catalog documenting the silver collection: Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. English, Irish, & Scottish Silver at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Beth Carver Wees, ed. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1997.

Related or similar material can be found in the following series in the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Archives, Williamstown, Massachusetts: Diaries Series, Sterling and Francine Clark Papers; Correspondence Series, Sterling and Francine Clark Papers; Financial Series, Sterling and Francine Clark Papers; Personal Series, Sterling and Francine Clark Papers; and Realia Series, Sterling and Francine Clark Papers; Records and Papers of David Brooke; Institutional Oral Histories.

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