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Leonard A. Lauder, chairman emeritus of the Estee Lauder Cos. Inc., has pledged to donate his world renowned collection of cubist art — consisting of 78 works by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, and Fernand Léger — to the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, thus sealing his artistic legacy after a lifetime of collecting.
In concert with Lauder’s gift, the Met is establishing The Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art that will be supported by a $22 million endowment funded by grants from museum trustees and supporters, including Lauder. The donated collection is considered one the foremost assemblages of cubist art in the world, in terms of quality, depth and focus. The collection includes 33 works by Picasso, 17 by Braque, 14 by Gris and 14 by Léger. During a telephone interview Tuesday evening following a meeting of the Met’s board, Lauder said he has always tried to have a transformative effect in his endeavors and this case is no different. “I wanted to transform the Met,” he said, noting that one of the reasons he picked the Met was that he wanted his collection housed within an encyclopedic museum. The Met’s vast holdings fill that bill, but its encyclopedic nature stops at 1900. After that it is comparatively thin. Lauder added that he hopes the impact of the gift and the establishment of a modern art research center will encourage other collectors to step forward. Lauder said he intends to continue acquiring and donating works to the museum.
Lauder said he has had conversations with other museums. Without naming names, he said, “I didn’t want it to be a beauty contest and I did not want to pit one against the other.” On that last point, he dismissed any possible speculation of a conflict with the Whitney, Museum of American Art, where he has served as trustee, president and chairman. He pointed out that the Whitney is devoted to American art and he began collecting French Cubism in 1976, long before he joined the Whitney board. In addition to a $131 million gift to the Whitney’s endowment, he donated works by Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol, in addition to spearheading a gift by 11 trustees of 86 contemporary and modern works. In making such a sweeping gift to the Met, Lauder said he was motivated by “my love of art and my love of New York.” Above all, “I wanted to make it a gift to New York.” He added, “I was born in New York, went to grammar and high school here and it is the cultural capital of the world.”
Thomas P. Campbell, director and chief executive officer of the museum, said, “Leonard’s gift is truly transformational. Although the Met is unique in its ability to exhibit over 5,000 years of art history, we have long lacked this critical dimension in the story of modernism. Now, cubism will be represented with some of its greatest masterpieces, demonstrating both its role as the groundbreaking movement of the 20th century and the foundation for an artistic dialogue that continues today. This is an extraordinary gift to our museum and our city.”
Lauder had no comment on reports that the collection of art has a value of more than $1 billion. The Lauder Collection will be presented for the first time at the Met in an exhibition scheduled to open in fall 2014.
The museum said the Lauder research facility will be a center for scholarship on cubism and early modern art. It is being modeled on research centers housed in other major public collections worldwide, serving as a magnet for the study of modernism. It is meant to foster research, programming and publications on the Met’s collections of modern art and on cubism’s enduring impact on art, design, and architecture in the 20th and 21st centuries.