The late heiress Huguette Clark’s doll collection will be auctioned off in Goleta next year to benefit the Bellosguardo Foundation.
Clark died in 2011 at age 104 with a $300 million fortune, and in her will, she created a foundation to foster the arts.
She gifted her grand estate at 1407 E. Cabrillo Blvd. in Santa Barbara to the foundation, and after years of probate and tax issues, ownership was transferred in late 2017.
Stuart Holbrook, president of Theriault’s auction house, said Clark’s collection will be auctioned on Jan. 11. The collection of 1,000-plus dolls includes about 400 being auctioned, minus the 30 to 40 dolls that will be displayed at the Santa Barbara estate, he said.
“We’ve been working with (the foundation) and have established our vision and their vision, understanding that dolls are an important part of the legacy and life of Huguette,” he said.
Holbrook said he has visited Bellosguardo several times recently and seen the improvements — presumably to make it ready for the public.
“It’s a time capsule basically of a gilded life, and these homes that are truly spectacular,” he said.
Clark’s passion for music is shown in her collection, and Holbrook incorporated some mechanical dolls — including a ballet dancer and one that plays a harp — into the estate’s music room.
Thierault’s moved its annual auction to The Ritz-Carlton Bacara in western Goleta to honor Clark’s collection, according to Holbrook.
He said some of the dolls will be displayed in an exhibit open to the public the day before the auction, from 3 to 5 p.m. Jan. 10. The public exhibit will also be open from 9 to 11 a.m. Jan. 11, and the auction will start at 11 a.m., exclusively for Clark dolls.
Members of the public are welcome to stay and watch the auction, although it may be standing-room-only, Holbrook said.
Clark is “beloved in the doll world,” he added. “Collectors are flying in from around the world for this.”
He said the popularity of her collection is drawn from her unique life.
“Yes, the dolls are fabulous ... But overall, the greatest part of this whole collection is the story of Huguette,” he said.
According to Theriault’s president Stuart Holbrook, this 19th century doll comes with custom clothing made by the Christian Dior couture fashion house at Huguette Clark’s request. “It reflects well to her unique eye,” he says. (Theriault’s photo)
A few 19th-century French dolls wear custom clothing made by couture fashion house Christian Dior, which Clark requested in the 1960s.
“That is a very unique thing,” Holbrook said. “Who can talk to Dior in Paris and have them actually do this? And they did.”
The doll collection was gifted to the Bellosguardo Foundation in 2014, when Theriault’s appraised it at $1.7 million.
Holbrook said at the time that he and others at the company had exchanged notes and doll catalogs with Clark, one of their biggest collectors, for decades without knowing who she was, since she always contacted them through attorneys.
He said Clark mostly purchased French dolls from the 19th century, though she did buy some Japanese dolls and even some unique Barbie dolls.
Clark was the daughter of copper tycoon and Idaho Sen. William Clark, who made his fortune from mining, banks and railroads. She lived at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York for the last decades of her life, and she reportedly had not visited the Santa Barbara estate for 50 years.
That property, as well as a lavish Fifth Avenue apartment in New York City and a home in Connecticut, were kept ready for a visit at a moment’s notice.
Many of the Clark family’s fine art collection, furniture and other belongings have been auctioned to fund the settlement for the will, and the Christie’s auction in 2014 raised almost $8.5 million.
The Bellosguardo Foundation was created, and then-Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider nominated members to the board of directors. Her former political consultant, Jeremy Lindaman, is president and working as the executive director for the estate.
Other than a fundraiser last year, with $1,000-plus tickets, the public has not had much of a glimpse into the estate or the foundation’s plans.
The Bellosguardo Foundation “is committed to both honoring the Clarks’ past and building a future where the estate can be enjoyed by all as a focal point for the arts,” according to its website. “Realizing that future will take time and commitment, but the fruits of that labor will be well worth the effort.
“Be it coming up to enjoy a family picnic by the rose garden, delve into the estate’s history, view art from institutions around the world or take in a jazz recital on the lawn, Bellosguardo will become a new home for art, music, history and culture on the California coast.”
Bellosguardo is a 23½-acre property with an assessed value of $51.7 million for the 2019-2020 year, according to the Santa Barbara County Assessor’s Office.
The 21,666-square-foot mansion, built in 1936, has nine bedrooms, 10 bathrooms and 13 fireplaces.