Leonard Lauder’s $1 billion gift of Cubist art to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) last month underscores the longtime link between science, art and beauty. The chairman emeritus of The Estée Lauder Cos. made his fortune in fragrance, skin creams and lipsticks and used a chunk of it to purchase 33 works by Pablo Picasso, 17 works by Georges Braque, 14 by Juan Gris and 14 by Fernand Leger. Among the highlights of the collection are: Picasso’s The Scallop Shell (“Notre avenir est dans l’air”)(1912), Woman in an Armchair (Eva) (1913), and Still Life with Cards, Glasses, and Bottle of Rum: “Vive la France” (1914; partially reworked 1915); Braque’s Trees at L’Estaque (1908) and The Violin (Mozart/Kubelick) (1912); Léger’s Houses under the Trees (1913) and Composition (The Typographer) (1917-18); and Gris’s Portrait of the Artist’s Mother (1912) and Figure Seated in a Café (Man at a Table) (1914). Now, all of them are headed to the Met and should be on display for the world to enjoy by 2014.
“Leonard’s gift is truly transformational for the Metropolitan Museum,” said Thomas P. Campbell, the museum’s director and chief executive officer, in a statement. “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.”
The museum will also establish the Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, supported by a $22 million endowment funded by grants from its trustees and supporters, including Lauder, whose net worth is estimated at $8.4 billion by Bloomberg. The research center will promote scholarship on Cubism and modern art.
As one of New York’s leading philanthropists, Lauder’s largesse is legendary. Just last year, jewelry from the collections of his late mother, Estée Lauder, and his late wife, Evelyn H. Lauder, were auctioned off at Sotheby’s New York for more than $22 million, well above their overall high estimate of $18 million. Net proceeds benefitted The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, founded by Evelyn Lauder in 1993.
Now, Lauder is donating his art collection to be enjoyed by all.
“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,” he said in the press release.
Leonard isn’t the only Lauder with a passion for art. More than a decade ago, his younger brother Ronald opened the Neue Galerie in New York. Located across the street from the Metropolitan Museum, Neue Galerie is dedicated to art from Germany and Austria from the early 20th century. In addition, Ronald Lauder has played a key role in recovering “lost” art from the Nazi period.
A Long-Time Collector
Leonard Lauder may be the world’s leading collector of Cubism, but his first collection ran toward more plebeian tastes. As he told Judith H. Dobrzynski in an interview, as a young boy of 5 or 6, his father gave him five cents as an allowance, which he promptly spent on five postcards of the Empire State Building. That passion for postcards still exists for Lauder, who told Dobrzynski the thrill for him is in tracking down a worthwhile postcard. Last year, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston opened an exhibition of 700 of his postcards, a tiny part of a promised gift he has made to the museum—The Postcard Age: Selections from the Leonard A. Lauder Collection, which is a series of 120,000 postcards.
Most telling is the reason behind his passion for collecting. As he said to Dobrzynski:
“Many people collect to possess. I collect to preserve, and no sooner do I have a collection put together than I am looking for a home for it in a public institution.”
And last month, his vast collection of Cubism found that home in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.