The Final Fate of Copper Heiress Hugette Clark’s “Missing” Degas

The famously unexplained story of reclusive copper heiress Huguette Clark’s missing Degas has finally reached an unexpected resolution.  The Edgar Degas pastel painting, “Dancer Making Points,” valued at $10 million, mysteriously disappeared from her NYC apartment in the early 1990s and then turned up in the private collection of Henry Bloch, from H&R Block.  Even after its discovery, the painting continued to hang on their wall above the sofa, along with other prominent artists such as Georges Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec.

while the answer to how the painting was removed from Clark’s home without her knowledge is still uncertain, Bloch and his wife became aware of the questionable nature of the sale in 2005.  The Bloch’s maintain that they had purchase the painting in good faith in 1993 through New York art dealer Susan L. Brody and had since been in possession of the piece.  In addition, in 1992 Clark had told her attorney and the FBI not to continue to pursue the incident as she preferred to maintain her privacy, perhaps forfeiting her claim to the painting altogether.

With ownership in dispute, Huguette Clark and the Blochs became entangled in a long-standing legal battle with the Bloch’s attorney arguing that the painting now belonged to them.  Finally, in 2008 both sides reached an amicable agreement.  Clark agreed to donate the painting to an art museum in Kansas City, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, where Bloch had been a longtime trustee, chairman and benefactor and where he and his wife had already promised to donate all of their art when upon their deaths.  As part of the agreement, the heiress was able to claim the income tax deduction for the gift.

The final transaction sealing the deal took place at the Bloch home in Mission Hills, Kansas.  A Bloch representative handed the ballerina in the gilded frame to Clark’s attorney, who then walked the piece out to the car and handed it to a representative of the museum.  The museum representative then handed it back to the representative of the Blochs and back on the wall it went. The museum has agreed to lend the painting to the Blochs, who will have it as long as they live, renewing the loan each year.  At some point, the piece will return to its owner, the Kansas City Museum, along with the rest of the Bloch’s collection of Impressionist masterpieces.  All parties signed a confidentiality agreement, keeping the whole business a secret, even from the staff of the museum. Only three of the museum’s 21 trustees were made aware of the story.

In 2010, when the museum announced the promise made by the Blochs to donate 30 paintings to the museum, the Degas dancer was featured in the collection, although at that point the museum had already owned the painting for two years.  Huguette Clark passed away last May at the age of 104.