About what to visit in Massachusetts and about a one-of-a kind place in the world for location, purposes and composition.
About the magic of the Berkshires and how to find oneself – every time – into an endless spell.
About an idyllic world – a new Arcadia – where history, nature, culture, art and literature live together and proliferate in their own harmony, since ever.
I want to tell you about the bucolic small Williamstown, about its hills, about the unforgettable sunset on the Purple Valley and about one among the most suggestive traits of the Appalachian Trail through Mount Greylock.
About the beauty of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, one among the most waited and admired ones in Summer, about the poetry of its wooden houses and about the First Congregational Church – strictly white, like in an authentic small town of the New England – whose very high tower bell has been watching over the buildings of the prestigious and coveted Williamstown College since ever.
And – among all – about its real, undisputed “great beauty”, the Sterling & Francine Clark Institute, also known as The Clark.
One among the most precious art – and love, I’d add – collections of the United States of America, created by the passion and the perseverance of the American millionaire Robert Sterling Clark – heir of the family owner of the Singer sewing machines industries – and his wife Francine over 40 years.
“What’s definitively an art collection? A world inside a world.”
The Clark is the result of a great and absolute love idyll, that one of Robert Sterling and Francine Clark for art.
Everything started with the first expedition of Robert to China in 1908 and the following “escape” to Paris in 1910. From there the discover of the collection world, the chance encounter, the brainwave and the wedding with Francine, famous and appreciated French actress.
Try to think about life in Paris in the early 1900s.
Imagine them happy and passionately falling in love with each other in their Parisian flat while cataloguing the first works purchased, the approach with the Impressionism and the sparkle for the most spectacular works of its major representatives: Renoir, Degas, Manet, Monet, Pizarro. So the re-discover of the great American Painting by Homer and Singer Sargent and of the moving rural landscapes of the New England.
Then the Second World War brokeout and the urgency to save the entire overseas collection, in Canada, and finally in 1955 the definitive collocation of what had become by now one among the most important artistic collections of that period in the wonderful framework of the Berkshires, in Williamstown… “where nature and art coexist perfectly, by the most intimate and natural way”.
A lifetime story, intense and very beautiful, which created a one-of-a kind place in the world.
A museal facility that today includes – besides its precious artworks – the biggest and rich library of the History of Art in the whole United States opened to the public – because “books have to be read and not closed in safe rooms!” – and an international Academic Center with programs and scholarships for famous students and artists, for the research and the discussion about the origins and the development of the History of Art.
And it’s right in a green flowerbed near the original entrance of The Clark that Robert and Francine are buried, forever close to their (beloved) “jewels”.
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
The Clark Art Institute is located in the heart of the Berkshires, wonderfully set in a rural framework of over 140hectars, between Williamstown and the Williamstown College, which literally includes it.
It’s as if the landscape beauty of the uncontaminated nature neighboring it praises the artistic one inside, stimulating the visitor to catch every single aspect and to get lost literally in it.
An exciting journey through paintings, sculptures, printers, drawings, photos and European and American decorative arts from the Renaissance until the beginning of the 20th century, discovering what – rightly – is considered the most beautiful Impressionist collection outside France, among Degas, Millet, Courbet, Manet, Monet, Pizarro, Gauguin and the visionary Toulouse-Lautrec.
And even – as if it were not enough – the encounter with works by Perugino, Botticelli, Rembrandt, even Piero della Francesca with “Virgin and Child enthroned with four Angels”, considered as the most beautiful one among his 7 works present in American Museums and foundations.
Over years, even after the death of its founders, the collection widened thanks to important legacies and donations giving life also to some special sections of silvers, glasses and furniture.
A visit really recommended not only to art lovers, but also – and maybe above all – to the beauty lovers, meant in its whole of shapes and expressions.
A unique experience.
Like re-live through the story and the location of every single work all the emotion and the passion of Robert and Francine: like imagine them sit in the Parisian cafés of the Belle Époque or in the artists’ studios talking about art, Impressionism, collections, selecting works and purchasing, with the excitement to take away each time a little precious piece of that wonderful mosaic that The Clark is today.
The official entrance of The Clark Art Institute is located at 225, South Street in Williamstown.
The museum and the bookstore are opened Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm.
Reckon at least 3 hours for the visit.
The Clark Art Institute can be reached from New York by car in three hours. Or you can use the Amtrak New York Penn Station-Albany Rensselaer railroad route, NY (two and a half hours travelling) and so rent a car to reach Williamstown (another hour travelling).
If you decide to stay overnight to visit The Clark and Williamstown more calmly, the central Williams Inn gives comfortable rooms with breakfast, car parking and Wi-Fi included in the price.
Starting from Summer 2018 a new railroad line linking the Albany Rensselaer station to Pittsfield – few km far from Williamstown – will be opened.
My tip is to not think about only a day or a weekend trip from New York, but reckon at least a 3/4 days road trip in the Berkshires, through Stockbridge, Pittsfield, Lenox and Williamstown to enjoy to the best everything this nice region has to offer.