Thomas Benedict Clarke (1848-1931) was a prominent New York businessman and one of the first major collectors of contemporary American paintings in the 1870s-1880s. He purchased his first painting in 1872 and eventually amassed one of the largest private collections of American art at the turn of the century.
After retiring from the business world, Clarke served as President of the New York School of Applied Design for Women, Treasurer of the National Society of Arts, and Chairman of the House Committee of the Union League Club. He was a founding member of the National Sculpture Society and National Arts Club, and founded the Clarke Prize of the National Academy of Design in 1883. He was also a member of several New York gentlemen's clubs, including the Century, Lotos, Lamb, and Manhattan Clubs.
In 1890, Clarke announced he would no longer officially acquire or deal in works of art, except as an agent for his friend, George Inness. Concentrating his attentions on a new venture, in 1891, he opened "Art House" off of Fifth Avenue in New York City, a showcase for English furniture, Oriental porcelains, and Continental antiquities. In 1899, he announced he would be putting his collection of 375 American paintings up for sale during a landmark, week-long auction at the American Art Association. Included in the sale were 32 works by George Inness and 30 works by Winslow Homer.
In 1912, Clarke returned to active art collecting, this time focusing his energies on building a collection of Colonial American art.