An Art Donation Cubed

  • Arts & Culture
  • 2013

Leonard Lauder, for many years CEO of the cosmetics firm Estée Lauder that was founded by his parents, became a disciplined and tightly focused collector of art as his wealth swelled in his forties. Eschewing the temptation to buy flashy works across a range of popular styles, he started scooping up one kind of creation: early Cubist works. “I liked the aesthetic,” he told the New York Times, and during those years when Impressionism and post-Impressionism were much more fashionable, “a lot was still available, because nobody really wanted it.” Lauder notes that “early on I decided this should be formed as a museum collection.” He relied on expert guidance from Hunter College art historian Emily Braun, and “whenever I considered buying anything, I would step back and ask myself, does this make the cut?”

In 2013, the 80-year-old Lauder announced he was donating his melange of Cubist paintings, drawings, and sculptures to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It totaled 78 works by just four artists, each represented in depth—Picasso, Braque, Léger, and Gris—and was valued at more than a billion dollars. Art experts characterized this as one of the most significant art donations ever, and described the group as single-handedly equaling or exceeding the very best collections of Cubism that major museums like New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, or Paris’s Pompidou Center had managed to accumulate over a century. “In one fell swoop this puts the Met at the forefront of early-twentieth-century art,” asserted Metropolitan Museum director Thomas Campbell. “It is an unreproducible collection, something museum directors only dream about.”

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