Privileged residents of New York City - and the tourists who besiege it - will soon have a significant new present to unwrap, namely a billion-dollar trove of paintings from the Cubist era donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by the cosmetics heir and heavy-weight philanthropist Leonard A. Lauder.
It might be hard to imagine an institution such as the Met, the largest art museum in the western hemisphere, being transformed by a single gift. Yet that will be the impact of the shipments that have already started to arrive from the private vaults of Lauder. In all, he has promised to hand over 78 Cubist pieces to the museum, including 33 works by Pablo Picasso and 17 by Georges Braques.
The collection, valued by Forbes at over US$1 billion ($1.16 billion), which will go on show next year, is "unsurpassed in the number of masterpieces and iconic works critical to the development of Cubism", the museum said. The gift is sparking particular curatorial delight because Cubism, which ushered in the wider period of abstract painting, has until now been under-represented on the Met's walls.
"This is a gift to the people who live and work in New York, and those from around the world who come to visit our great arts institutions," said Lauder, who is also funding a research institute into modern art at the Met.
The acquisition is also a major catch for the director of the Met, Thomas Campbell. Lauder had been mulling over where to send his collection for years.
Campbell acknowledged that the institution he took over in 2008 had "long lacked this critical dimension in the story of modernism".
With the Lauder paintings, it may now eclipse the Cubist collections of the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art also in New York. "In one fell swoop this puts the Met at the forefront of early-20th-century art.
"It is an un-reproducible collection, something museum directors only dream about."
Lauder has long sat on a number of committees at the Met, though he is better known as the one-time chairman of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
"Whenever I've given something to a museum, I've wanted it to be transformative," Lauder told the New York Times.
"This wasn't a bidding war. I went knocking, and the door opened easily."
Pickpockets trigger Louvre strike
A strike over marauding pickpockets closed the Louvre museum in Paris yesterday.
Museum workers went on strike to protest against the presence of increasingly numerous and aggressive young pickpockets who, they said, target visitors and staff.
Around 100 workers marched to the Ministry of Culture, in Palais Royal, to demand tougher government action.
"The staff can't stand it any longer," said Christelle Guyader of the left-wing SUD union federation.
"They have been coming to work with fear in their bellies because they are being confronted by organised gangs of increasingly aggressive pickpockets."
The Culture Ministry promised yesterday to investigate the problem with the Interior and Justice ministries and try to increase security at the museum.