Local Landmark Inherits Legal Issue
Published: Friday, February 8, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 22:02
When exploring the sights of Washington, D.C., Georgetown students often overlook museums, like the Newseum and International Spy Musem, because they charge an entrance fee. Some of the District’s privately-owned establishments offer one-of-a-kind collections that are worth their admission price. And one of these attractions, the Corcoran Gallery of Art — the city’s oldest art museum that is also well-known for its College of Art and Design — has been gracing the pages of The Washington Post this year for its decrease in donor involvement and rumored relocation from its Beaux-Arts building on 17th Street. Most recently, however, the gallery has been caught up in a legal battle concerning the inheritance of a $25 million Monet.
Huguette Clark, the deceased owner of the famous French painting, was the daughter of former Senator and Corcoran benefactor William A. Clark, and she led a mostly reclusive and private life until her death on May 24, 2011. Prior to her passing, two weeks before her 105th birthday, Clark had created three different wills, each bequeathing different sums of money, artworks and other valuables on multiple personal and professional parties. The last of these wills specified the establishment of the Bellosguardo Foundation, a museum located in her Santa Barbara, Calif., mansion containing all of the art in her collection — except a piece from Monet’s "Water Lilies" series that has not been viewed in public since 1930.
In her third will, Clark decided to bestow this painting on the Corcoran, one of the many institutions that her personal fortune has funded. Neither of her previous wills recognizes the gallery, and even now, the third will is being contested. Surprisingly enough, the Corcoran has raised objections to the legitimacy of Clark’s final will.
According to The Washington Post, Harvey Corn, the lawyer of Clark’s private nurse Hadassah Peri — to whom she left $5 million — said in a hearing, "This is an institution that’s going broke. … They ought to be sitting here and protecting their $25 million asset. … They may be doing the bidding of family members when they should be doing the bidding of the beneficiaries of the Corcoran."
With the addition of this new Monet to their collection, the museum, which reported a $7.2 million deficit last June, could attract more tourists and potentially generate enough profit to finance a $130 million project to renovate and raise it to modern museum standards.
However, the museum may be hesitating to accept the Monet due to the knowledge that Clark’s health and memory were declining when she signed the final will in April 2005. The Corcoran also speculates that Clark may have been unduly influenced or incompetent — she had been diagnosed with dementia not too long before — because she signed her second of the three wills only six weeks prior.
The Corcoran has not released a statement explaining its position, but considering that the last two wills may be proved illegitimate because of Clark’s mental instability, the family could actually inherit everything, leaving the gallery without the Monet. In this case, the Corcoran would keep a $3 million trust created by Clark’s mother in the 1920s. Though the museum’s motives and prospect of bequest remain unclear, hopefully the increased coverage of their financial and legal state may serve to increase tourism and generate new revenue for the foundation and its school.