Donation of cubist art to Metropolitan Museum of Art valued at $1 billion

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NEW YORK -- In one of the most significant gifts in the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, philanthropist and cosmetics tycoon Leonard A. Lauder has promised the institution his collection of 78 cubist paintings, drawings and sculptures.

The trove of signature works -- including 33 Picassos, 17 Braques, 14 Legers and 14 works by Gris -- is valued at more than $1 billion. It puts Mr. Lauder, who for years has been one of the city's most influential art patrons, in a class with cornerstone contributors to the museum such as Michael C. Rockefeller, Walter Annenberg, Henry Osborne Havemeyer and Robert Lehman. The gift was approved by the Met's board at a meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Scholars say the collection is among the world's greatest -- as good as, if not better than, the renowned cubist paintings, drawings and sculptures in institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Pompidou Center in Paris.

Together, they tell the story of a movement that revolutionized Modern art and fill a glaring gap in the Met's collection, which has been notably weak in early-20th-century art. "In one fell swoop, this puts the Met at the forefront of early 20th-century art," said Thomas P. Campbell, the Met's director. "It is an unreproducible collection, something museum directors only dream about."

As a New Yorker aware that his art could radically transform one of the city's most historic institutions, Mr. Lauder saw the Met as a perfect fit.

"Whenever I've given something to a museum, I've wanted it to be transformative," he explained. "This wasn't a bidding war. I went knocking, and the door opened easily."

In the New York art scene, heavily populated with big-time collectors, Mr. Lauder is a singular figure. While many of his peers have made splashy acquisitions, seduced by the latest trends in art, he has been quietly and steadily building a museum-worthy collection with a single focus on cubism.

His gift comes without restrictions, so it can be displayed as curators see fit. The Met is already starting to receive the art, officials there said, for an exhibition scheduled to open in the fall of 2014.

Mr. Lauder, 80, has also spearheaded creation of a research center for Modern art at the Met, supported by a $22 million endowment he helped finance, along with museum trustees and supporters.

The term cubism first appeared in a review of a 1908 exhibition at Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler's Paris gallery, which featured early cubist works.

At first a collaboration between Picasso and Braque, cubism became a pioneering movement that redefined Western concepts of space and time, high and low. Those two artists, along with Fernand Leger and Juan Gris, took familiar shapes and turned them upside down, dismantling the traditional perspective.

Challenging the romantic view of painting, cubist artists also began incorporating things such as cardboard, sand, sawdust, rope, wood, wallpaper, stencils and bits of newspaper into their paintings, drawings, collages and sculptures.

Their work paved the way for abstraction, which dominated Western art for the next 50 years.

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