Leonard Lauder, the heir to cosmetics mogul Estée Lauder's massive fortune, just donated 78 Cubist paintings to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. That adds up to a lot of Picassos: 33 to be exact. The gift also includes 17 Braques, 14 Légers and 14 works by Gris. In total, the 80-year-old gave away $1.1 billion worth of art, a sum that amounts to one eight of Lauder's entire fortune. In the words of The New York Times, Lauder's profoundly generous donation is "one of the most significant gifts in the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Met's received a lot of gifts, by the way.
What's truly extraordinary about Lauder's gift isn't the dollar value, it's the perceived importance in the history of art. The Met is not the MoMA, and it's not the Whitney. It's not known for modern art at all, in fact, but the works of art the Lauder tossed its way with no strings attached — that is, the curator can do what she pleases with the collection — puts the museum on par with the greatest in the world in terms of early 20th-century art. This vital era saw the birth of Cubism and, many would argue, all of modern art as we know it. Now, the Met holds close to a hundred of the most important works. Thanks Leonard!
Much of the collection's uniquely high quality is owned to Lauder's own discerning eye. Emily Braun, the billionaire's curator for 26 years, also deserves credit. "You can't put together a good collection unless you are focused, disciplined, tenacious and willing to pay more than you can possibly afford," Lauder told The Times. "Early on I decided this should be formed as a museum collection, [and] whenever I considered buying anything, I would step back and ask myself, does this make the cut?"
So what makes the cut? Have a look at this quick highlight reel. Be impressed, be intrigued, be confused. This is Cubism, after all.
Pablo Picasso - "The Fan (L'Independent)" (1911)
Picasso began experimenting with typography around this time. This is one of the first works from the period.
George Braque - "Fruit Dish and Glass" (1912)
Braque is famous, in part, for inventing the papier collé or paper collage method that involved using different types of paper to create different types of effects. In this work, it's wood grain. It's also the first time Braque tried out the technique.
Pablo Picasso - Head of a Woman (1909)
This is a big one. A depiction of Picasso's then-lover Fernande Olivier, "Head of a Woman" is considered the first Cubist sculpture.
George Braque - "Trees at L'Estaque" (1908)
A lot of Cubism is hard to comprehend. This one is just beautiful and marked Braque's emergence from obscurity when it was shown at the 1908 Kahnweiler exhibition.