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Gift valued at $1 billion transforms Met's modern art collection

April 09, 2013|By Jori Finkel
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (Mary Altaffer / Associated…)

Museum leaders are generally reluctant to see themselves engaged in competition, but the Museum of Modern Art in New York just lost a big one — and will lose its reputation as the city's only great destination for the Cubism of Picasso and Braque as well.

Collector and former cosmetics executive Leonard Lauder confirmed Tuesday that he was giving his collection of 78 Cubist sculptures, paintings and drawings to the Metropolitan Museum of Art instead of MoMA, the modern art citadel on 53rd Street.

The news was first reported by the New York Times, which valued the gift at around $1 billion.

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The gift includes 14 works each by Fernand Leger and Juan Gris, 17 pieces by Braque and 33 by Picasso.

Prime-period works that reflect Cubism's innovations in flattening perspective and fracturing reality include Picasso's "The Scallop Shell" from 1912, "Woman in an Armchair (Eva)" from 1913 and "Still Life With Cards, Glasses and Bottle of Rum" from 1914-15, as well as Braque's "Trees at L'Estaque" from 1908 and "Fruit Dish and Glass" from 1912. The Met identified the latter as the first Cubist paper collier or paper collage.

This is not the first major museum gift made by Lauder (not to be confused with his brother Ronald, also an art collector and philanthropist). In 2008, while he was still chairman of the board at the Whitney Museum of American Art, he gave the museum $131 million, the largest cash gift that institution has ever received. The endowment received $125 million, more than doubling its size.

“Whenever I’ve given something to a museum, I’ve wanted it to be transformative,” Lauder told the New York Times, which notes that his discussions with the Met lasted for years, predating current director Thomas Campbell. Lauder did not comment on or identify any other museums he was also in conversations with.

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