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Montana Treasure: Copper King's art collection displayed in Missoula

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MISSOULA -

It's a homecoming centuries in the making. Art pieces from Montana's late copper king's private art collection is now displayed at the Montana Museum of Art and Culture on the University of Montana campus. 

MMAC Director Barbara Koostra says after a three year process of getting the art pieces to Missoula, eight paintings and one sculpture from William A. Clark's private collection can now be seen at UM.

"These works are rare finds. They are masterpieces, by some of the master artists of the 19th and earlier centuries," Koostra said.

The artists include  Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Jean-Charles Cazin, Jules Dupré, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Thomas Gainsborough, and a sculpture attributed to Italian master Donatello.

The rare finds come with a hefty price tag, even for one of the wealthiest Americans ever. Clark was able to purchase the pieces thanks to his fortune from the copper mines on the richest hill on Earth in Butte, America. 

"William Clark was an extremely wealthy man and he derived that wealth from extracting minerals on the backs of Montanans," MMAC Curator Jeremy Canwell said. 

After Clark's passing in 1925, his family donated much of his private collection to the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Koostra says when the Corcoran closed in 2014, the vast majority of the artworks were distributed to museums on the East Coast. The MMAC put in a request to receive some art because of Clark's place in Montana history.

The MMAC is the only institution to get this many pieces west of the Mississippi.

"It's hugely important that they've come to Montana, to bolster our permanent collection of art, we have over 11,000 pieces already. It's a beautiful collection but now it almost ascends to a new level because of the richness of these pieces. 

The MMAC opened the William A. Clark collection on Oct. 4, in the middle of UM's homecoming week. 

"What we see is a homecoming on the fact that these treasures returned to our state. Doing it during homecoming week is perfect, and so we called it the William A. Clark Collection: A Homecoming," Koostra said. 

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