Sensational $1-bln art gift 'transforms' New York Met

Cosmetics billionaire Leonard Lauder has given New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art an astonishing, no-strings-attached collection of Cubist art that he assembled over four decades, according to the museum.

The enormous gift, estimated to be worth $1 billion, includes 78 works by Picasso, Braque, Gris, and Leger, and "will transform the museum," a statement said on Tuesday.

The Met, a world-class institution that has long suffered a hole in its early 20th century art collection, will be transformed by the completeness and quality of the sudden addition.

The museum will also establish a new research center for modern art, supported by a $22 million endowment created by donors including Lauder, it was announced.

"Leonard's gift is truly transformational for the Metropolitan Museum," Met director and CEO Thomas Campbell said.

"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," he said.

"This is an extraordinary gift to our Museum and our City."

In a statement, Lauder, 80, said his gift is for "the people who live and work in New York and those from around the world who come to visit our great arts institutions."

"I selected the Met as the way to share this collection because I feel that it's essential that Cubism -- and the art that follows it, for that matter -- be seen and studied within the collections of one of the greatest encyclopedic museums in the world."

The Lauder Collection will be unveiled late in 2014, the museum said.

Experts estimated that Lauder's painstakingly put-together trove immediately catapults the Met into the forefront of world collections of Cubist art, equal or even ahead of renowned institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, also in Manhattan.

"In one fell swoop this puts the Met at the forefront of early-20th-century art," Campbell told The New York Times. "It is an (irreproducible) collection, something museum directors only dream about."

Forbes magazine said the collection was worth about $1.1 billion and that Lauder had therefore given away 13.5 percent of his $8.1 billion personal fortune. It also "enshrines him in the pantheon of the most generous philanthropists of all time," Forbes said.

According to the magazine, which specializes in tracking the super wealthy, Lauder becomes the 24th individual in the world to donate more than $1 billion over the course of their lifetimes.

"He now stands shoulder to shoulder on that list with the likes of Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Eli Broad, George Kaiser, Michael Bloomberg, George Lucas and others," Forbes reported.

The collection "distinguished by its quality, focus, and depth," includes 33 Picassos, 17 works by Braque, and 14 by Gris and Leger apiece, the Met said in its statement.

Among the masterpieces are paintings that were critical to the revolutionary early 20th century artistic movement of Cubism. Highlights include Picasso's "The Scallop Shell (Notre avenir est dans l'air)" from 1912, and "Woman in an Armchair (Eva)," from 1913.

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