Only the reclusive American heiress Huguette Clark would agree on a legal settlement that would cost her millions of dollars just to avoid the spotlight.You may recall Clark, the billionaire who died in May in an unmarked hospital room, leaving behind a $400 million fortune.
Now, a mystery surrounding a Degas painting of a ballerina that once hung on the walls of Clark’s Fifth Avenue apartment has surfaced in a great investigative piece by msnbc.com’s Bill Dedman, who is writing a book about the Clark family.
The painting supposedly vanished from the apartment in the 1990s and resurfaced on the living room of art collector Henry Bloch (the H in H&R Block).
And while Clark knew in her lifetime that the painting was in Bloch’s possession, she never wanted to claim the painting as stolen, preferring instead to remain in the shadows.
The tale is incredibly convoluted, and Dedman’s story on msnbc.com is worth a read in its entirety. But we’ve pulled the most salient details in the saga:
- The Degas disappears in the early 1990s from the walls of Clark’s Fifth Avenue apartments. Whether it was stolen, thrown out, or given away is unclear.
- In 1992, Clark tells the FBI to drop the case in search of the painting, saying she values her privacy more than her possessions.
- In 2005, it was discovered the Bloch’s had purchased the painting in what appeared to be “good faith.” A legal battle of “finders keepers” ensues.
- Clark’s and Bloch’s lawyers eventually work out an incredibly convoluted agreement involving a Kansas City art museum that allowed the Blochs to keep the painting, but let Clark claim a tax benefit associated with donating the work.
To this day, no has been charged in the FBI case with stealing the painting. The case remains open, the FBI told Dedman.
But there’s another factor that could potentially complicate the case even more, Dedman writes. It has to do with two separate wills signed by Clark in 2005, a few weeks ago. The second will cuts out her family completely, and they’re currently in court attempting to invalidate it. If they succeed, they could derail the deal Clark made with the Blochs entirely.
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