Thomas Benedict Clarke
By the turn of the century, he had amassed one of the largest private collections of American paintings, Chinese porcelain, and other antiques. He became a patron of American contemporary art and in 1883, his collection was shown as one of the first exhibitions at the American Art Association.
The American Art Association, established in 1883 as an art gallery and auction house to promote American art. It hosted some of the city’s major art exhibitions during the period known as the Gilded Age. The galleries were devoted to paintings by American artists and it also had an Oriental Art Department. It was first located at 6 East 23rd Street in Manhattan, on the South side of Madison Square Park.
Madison Square Park, named after President James Madison, was opened to the public on May 10, 1847. Residential development was relentlessly moving uptown and the Madison Square area became a neighborhood of brownstone row houses and mansions where the elite of the city lived.
The structure at 26th Street and Madison Avenue on the park’s north-east corner was built in 1832 as the open air passenger depot for the New York and Harlem Rail Road,. When the depot moved uptown in 1871 the building housed a series of enterprises including P.T. Barnum’s “Hippodrome,” an orchestra concert garden, and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Renamed “Madison Square Garden” in 1879 the building hosted “exhibitions, lectures, horse shows and boxing matches. , including bouts by John L. Sullivan that drew huge crowds.
The Beaux-Arts building that replaced the antiquated open-air structure in 1890 was designed by Stanford White. With a 32 story tower modeled after the bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville, it was the city’s second tallest building. The main hall, 200 by 350 feet, was the largest in the world, with permanent seating for 8,000 people and floor space for thousands more. The Garden hosted , orchestral performances, light operas, romantic comedies, both the Barnum and the Ringling Brothers circuses, and the 1924 Democratic National Convention. Never a financial success, in 1924 it was torn down, and the venue moved uptown, though retaining the Madison Square Garden name.
Clarke continued to amass his extensive collection of porcelain, and donated some to the Union League Club of New York while he was chairman of the art committee there. His collection of paintings by American artist were freely shared with numerous institutions for exhibitions held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the 1893 Chicago World Columbian Exposition, and the National Academy of Design.
In 1888, at the age of forty Clarke retired from the linen business to devote himself to the arts and established himself as a full-time dealer in Chinese porcelain and Greek art. By October1892, Clarke opened “Art House,” a gallery at 4 East 34th street, devoted to the sale of Chinese and Japanese ceramics, Greek vases, and Eastern and Middle Eastern art. In addition to becoming an art advisor and agent for J.P. Morgan, Clarke served as president of the New York School of Applied Design for Women and treasurer of the National Society of Arts. He was a founding member of both the National Sculpture Society and the National Arts Club and founded the Clarke Prize of the National Academy of Design.
Clarke was the first major collector in the United States to concentrate on American painting, especially works by late 19th –century artists and Hudson River painters. He amassed a total of 375 paintings which he sold in 1899 during a landmark, four day public auction at the American Art Association. Included in the sale were 39 works by George Inness and 30 works by Winslow Homer. Proceeds from the sale totaled almost $235,000 equivalent to $6.7 Million today.
Over the next decade and a half, in addition to adding to his collections of porcelain, and eastern antiques, Clarke devoted himself to collecting and studying early American furniture.
By 1915, however, Clarke began to dispose of his rug and pottery collections, and by 1919, at the age of 71, Clarke abandoned his business in Chinese porcelains for a new area of interest.
He decided to fully concentrate on researching and building a collection of portraits of 18th and 19th century prominent American by American artists. At the time of his death on January 18, 1931 Clarke had acquired 175 works, painted by 77 different artists, including 29 portraits by Gilbert Stuart. In 1936 the Clarke Estate sold the collection of American historical portraits for $1,024,800, ($16.25mm) to M. Knoedler Co., art dealers, of 14 East 57th Street
With the opening of Lexington and Madison Avenues into the Murray Hill section of Manhattan in 1848, rows of brownstone residences were built along the side streets. Socially prominent and wealthy residents such as J.P. Morgan moved into the area that took its name from the country estate of Robert and Mary Murray.
According to legend, during the Revolutionary War, Mary Murray detained British General Howe at the family house, allowing Washington’s troops under the command of Gen. Israel Putnam to escape to the north.
A plaque commemorating the event right is down the block from the Collectors Club on the corner of 35th street and Park Avenue.
In 1901, to house his growing collection, Thomas Clark purchased one of the brownstone buildings at 22 East 35th Street between Madison and Park Avenues, a block away from J.P. Morgan’s residence.
To design his new residence as a suitable showcase for his varied collections, Clarke turned to the firm of McKim, Mead & White, the most prominent architectural firm in the United States. Founded in1879 by Charles Follen McKim, William Rutherford Mead and Stanford White
The firm had achieved a national reputation with their colonial Georgian architecture and monumental new-classical architecture designs for numerous projects like:
Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library
The Boston Public Library
James Farley Post Office
The Buildings at the World’s Columbian Exhibition
New York’s Pennsylvania Station.
In 1902, Stanford White, the partner in charge, transformed Clarke’s new residence into both a home and an art gallery. He was the son of Shakespearean scholar Richard Grant White, a dandy and Anglophile with no money, but a great many connections in New York’s art world.
White began his career at the age of 18 as the principal assistant to Henry Hobson Richardson, the greatest American architect of the day, and remained with Richardson for six years. In 1878, White embarked for a year and a half in Europe, and when he returned to New York in September 1879, he joined McKim and Mead to form McKim, Mead and White.
In 1884, White married 22-year-old Bessie Springs Smith a socially prominent Long Islander whose ancestors were early settlers of Smithtown. Their estate, Box Hill, was not only a home, but also a showplace illustrating the aesthetic and luxurious designs White offered prospective wealthy clients.
White’s reputation was well established before his engagement with Thomas Clarke. He had designed:
New York Herald Building
First Bowery Savings Bank
Madison Square Presbyterian Church
Gould Memorial Library for NYU
Some of his residential houses and estates include
Rosecliff Newport RI Built for Nevada silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs
Harbor Hill Roslyn NY for Clarance H. Mackay Chairman Postal Telegraph and Cable Corp
The Henry Villard Mansion
He also designed and decorated the Fifth Avenue mansions for
John Jacob Astor
The Flamboyant White
White, a tall, flamboyant man with red hair and grand mustache, was a sophisticated collector of all things rare and costly, artwork, and antiquities which brought him into contact with Thomas Clark.
Unfortunately, White was also a collector of young women, one of whom was Evelyn Nesbit, a popular chorus girl and model.
Regrettably this led to his demise on June 25th,1906 at a performance in the roof garden theater of Madison Square Garden, when Nesbit’s husband Harry Thaw, in a jealous rage, shot and killed White. The resulting sensational press coverage of the scandal caused Thaw’s trial to be one of the first Trials of the Century.
The murder took place in the very building White had designed in 1890.
Fortunately, New Yorkers best remember Stanford White for designing the Washington Square Triumphal Arch, built in 1892 to celebrate the centennial of Washington’s inauguration as POTUS.
But, Philatelist pay tribute to White for taking Thomas Clarke’s brownstone in 1902 and instead completely demolishing and replacing it, he chose to drastically alter it. The walls and floors were left intact, a new front was added…
Transforming it into his new residence and art gallery combining a colonial revival style with its magnificent medieval- windows
The façade was inspired by a building White had seen England during his European tour. The New Zealand Chambers building on Leadenhall Street, London, designed by one of England’s celebrated architects, Richard Norman Shaw, sported three similar bay windows..
the rear of the building was extended, an additional fifth story was built and the interiors were completely redesigned. Upon completion in 1902, Clarke’s house was described in The Sun as “an art home…a home unique, as beautiful as it is individualistic. There is nothing like it in New York.”
Let’s take a look inside the home of Thomas and Fannie Clarke, …..how it looked then, and now.
Starting with the Entrance which has hardly changed.
The Foyer, however, has changed considerably, especially with the removal of the central staircase leading to the second floor.
The back of the first floor landing which currently is the Club’s main library, was the dining room, extended for the kitchen.
The central stair case went three-quarters to a landing from which one could proceed left or right to the 2nd floor. The elimination of the central staircase permitted the installation of the elevator.
The Club’s second floor reception area served a similar function as the Clarke’s Grand Salon
The smaller Petty Salon on the second floor rear, once the Club’s main library is now the Meeting Room.
The Clark’s 3rd Floor Master Bedroom became the Governor’s Room
The Third Floor rear bedroom is the Club’s auction catalog room.
The 4th Floor Rear Library and Sitting Room is now working space for The Philatelic Foundation
The 4th Floor front bedroom, which I believe was sevants quarters, is now the Foundation Expertizing area.
The 5th Floor front bedroom, also serveant’s quarters is not the Foundation Office.
So, who lived at 22 East 35th street? The 1910 Census shows that in addition to Thomas and Fannie Clarke, daughter Grace, her husband Richard, Son, Thomas Jr., and their Butler, Cook, and Chambermaid lived in the house.
Daughter, Grace, a poet and writer married the equestrian painter Richard Newton Jr. in 1905. Ten years later, Grace died but the cause is unknown. After her passing, Clarke published her books with illustrations by her husband.
Their son Thomas Benedict Clarke Jr., a graduate of Yale University, served as a lieutenant- colonel in the Seventy-seventh Division in WWI. After the war, he became a banker and in 1916 married Broadway and Film actress Elsie Fergusen, who divorced Clarke in1923. Five years later he married the widow Camilla Gaucher Sanborn. Retired as a vice president of the Harriman National Bank Clarke died Jan 25, 1958 at the age of 79
Suffolk Hunt Club
On June 25, 1911 the New York Times reported “Fox Hunting to be Revived on the Downs of the Suffolk Hunt Club in Bridgehampton, NY on the Atlantic coast the at the eastern end of Long Island;, today the area collectively and socially known as The Hamptons. Fox hunting began as a sport in the Hamptons around 1890, The Suffolk Hunt Club attracted wealthy summer residents, including the renowned art collector Thomas B. Clarke and Richard Newton Jr., Grace Clarke’s husband.
Richard Newton Jr.
Richard Newton Jr. , born in 1874, and his brothers, were raised in privileged Victorian society in New York City and began summering in East Hampton in 1879. Newton began painting seaside landscapes, but in 1906, turned to his sporting interest–the hunt. It was the heyday of the sport–the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Newton is considered one of the fore-most equestrian painters of his day. He was also a fine equestrian, elected the first Master of the Suffolk Hunt Club.
Hunt Club Closes
By all accounts the Suffolk Hunt Club was enjoying great prosperity by 1915, however, for reasons that remain unclear, the club dissolved in 1916. Contributing factors could have been the pending U.S. role in World War I, and possibly, the untimely death of Grace Clarke Newton. In 1917 an auction was held to sell off all contents of the club. Though the Suffolk Hunt Club had closed, Newton and his friends hunted for another 25 seasons until 1942. Newton remained a sportsman to the end, driving his four-in-hand coach through the streets of Southampton at the age of 62.
Thomas Clarke bought the 15-acre estate and clubhouse of the Hunt Club and turned the building into his summer private residence. He greatly expand the existing 19th-century house which remained the center portion of the estate, which he named “ Lindenland.”
After Clarke’s death, in 1931, Lindenland became a restaurant and nightclub, and later the popular St. James Hotel, until it was demolished in 2002. In 2009, the town of Southampton purchased the vacant property with preservation funds.
And what of his New York residence on 35th street. In 1937 Collectors Club members Theodore Steinway and Alfred Lichtenstein purchased the Clarke property for $38,000 and donated it to the Club.
While the exterior of the house was left intact, changes were made to the interior to better serve the purposes of the club. According to the club’s records, these were supervised by Clarence Brazer (1880-1956), a member and architect. Brazer had designed the town of Essington, PA for the Westinghouse Corporation, and was very anxious to retain features of White’s original design.
The original Pennsylvania Station a masterpiece of the Beaux-Arts style, was demolished in 1963. The controversy over the demolition of such a well-known landmark, and its deplored replacement, was a catalyst for the architectural preservation movement in the United States. Laws were passed to restrict such demolition and within the decade, Grand Central Terminal was protected under the city’s new landmarks preservation act.
As to Stanford White’s design for Thomas Clarke, on September 11, 1979 The Collectors Club Building was officially designated a New York City Landmark Site.
This portrait of Thomas Benedict Clarke, painted by Charles Frederic Ulrich in1884, hangs in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. The Gallery was kind enough to provide a high resolution image for us to reproduce the portrait on canvas, which now hangs proudly in the foyer of the house that Clarke built.
Thomas Benedict Clarke (1848 – 1931)