June 2014 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Beautiful Baudelaire on the Block

Among the "Clark Family Treasures" on sale at Christie's New York on Wednesday, this extra-illustrated copy of Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal, in a stunning mosaic binding by Charles Meunier, is on offer alongside one of the rarest violins in the world, a John Singer Sargent painting, and a Louis XV mantel clock. The auction house believes the book will realize at least $80,000.

Baudelaire_Les fleurs du mal copy.jpgPublished in Paris in 1857, this first edition is extra-illustrated with two autograph letters by Baudelaire, one by French painter Felix Bracquemond and two by writer Champfleury, two portraits of the author, original drawings and proof etchings, and 33 ornamental head-and-tail pieces by Bracquemond for an illustrated edition of the book. The volume was last on the market in 1919, when Anderson Galleries sold the estate of Samuel Putnam Avery. It was Avery who commissioned the morocco binding, tooled in gold and silver, with colored inlays of flowers and snakes, demons, and skulls. According to the catalogue notes, even the two pierced metal clasps and catches have skull designs.

Why has this macabre beauty remained unseen for nearly 100 years? It's merely one of many intrigues of the Clark Family. Most modern readers were introduced to Huguette Clark in 2010 when an investigative reporter found her still alive--and living for the past two decades in a secluded hospital room, despite her enormous wealth. The heiress died in 2011, at the age of 104. The astounding fact of the matter is that her father, the so-called "copper king" and U.S. Senator William Andrews Clark, was born in 1839. (Huguette was the second child from his second marriage to a much younger woman.) In his lifetime, he amassed an incredible amount of money, some of which he spent on fine art and collectibles until his death in 1925. Huguette and her mother continued that spree into the 1960s. In addition to exceptional collections of art, the Clark family acquired fine furniture, tapestries, dolls, and rare books. After both of her parents died, Huguette held on to the collections now being dispersed. At this week's sale, other high points in rare books include a first edition, English issue, first issue binding of Whitman's Leaves of Grass (estimated at $100,000-150,000) and an extensive, annotated notebook of Robert Louis Stevenson's poetry and prose (estimated at $80,000-120,000).

Image Credit: CHRISTIE'S IMAGES LTD. 2014