Who knew that Leonard Lauder’s donation of $131 million to the Whitney Museum of American Art was just a warm up act? The main event: Giving his prized private collection of Cubist art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The gift is estimated to be worth $1 billion. Lauder is the son of Estee Lauder and the former CEO of the famous cosmetics brand.
In a single gesture of giving, Lauder has transformed one of New York’s great cultural institutions. No one is more aware of this than Thomas Campbell, the Met’s director. The Met is one of the world’s great museums. Although it has many treasures, it lacks a world class gallery of early twentieth century art. That is, until April when Lauder announced his donation.
Lauder, 81, is the classic tycoon-philanthropist. We seem to be witnessing a revival of the species. Just think about Bill Gates. He might even be more respected at this charitable stage of his career than rival visionary, Steve Jobs. Gates’ raft of good works on a global scale is helping the neediest. Gates has given $28 billion of his not too shabby $66 billion fortune.
Lauder is making his contribution in the art world. And his gift represents a lifetime of art-buying acumen. Lauder started his collecting at the age of six with that most unlikely of art objects, the postcard. Not surprisingly, he went on to amass a world renowned collection, the best of which the Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibited in 2012.
Lauder’s advice for building a first rate collection sounds an awful lot like running a successful business: “You can’t put together a good collection unless you are focused, disciplined, tenacious and willing to pay more than you can possibly afford.”