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Mysterious Millionaire Huguette Clark’s Art Collection Up For Auction

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Her story inspired a bestselling book called “Empty Mansions” – the mysterious Manhattan millionaire who acquired masterpieces by Monet and Renoir, and hung them in lavish homes she chose not to live in.

As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported Friday, the treasures belonging to Huguette Clark are now up for auction.

“She lived a wonderfully cultured life,” said Andrew McVinish of Christie’s New York. “She was the heiress to a tremendous fortune, and certainly surrounded herself with many of the trappings that one would expect.”

Some of the artwork hung for years at a lavish apartment at 907 Fifth Ave. – maintained but unoccupied. Likewise vacant were mansions in Connecticut and California, while Clark spent her final decades living in a Manhattan hospital.

“She was quite the collector of many things,” said Brooke Lampley of Christie’s New York.

Lampley said Clark displayed a Monet painting of water lilies in her Fifth Avenue dining room.

“This work has not been on public view since 1926,” she said. “This is estimated at $25 (million) to $35 million.”

In the 1950s, Clark bought a Renoir painting of young women playing badminton for about $125,000. Today, the auction estimate for this painting is between $10 million and $15 million.

Clark clearly knew her art, perhaps in part because she herself was trained as an artist. A self-portrait and her paint palette are among the more affordable items in the action at just a few thousand dollars.

A 7-inch by 10-inch painting of Prospect Park by William Merritt Chase is valued at $700,000, while a Stradivarius violin that Clark’s father bought for her in 1920 was expected to go for millions.

All together, the violin, chairs, furniture, and artworks were expected to bring in $70 million at auction.

When Clark died in 2011 at the age of 104, her will was challenged by 19 distant relatives – most of whom had never even met her.

Some of the auction proceeds will go toward a settlement. What is left will be donated to a foundation promoting the arts.

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