Sunday, November 9, 2014

Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection

I met Ronald Lauder, younger son of Estée Lauder, about 40 years ago when a mutual friend introduced us.  Ronald became a good client over the years collecting French 18th century but mostly the more modern works (i.e. early 20th century) that we handled. The latter usually came to us through private collections we had known for some time.  Ronald often said my brother, Leonard, should come in.  I thought this very nice of him but never expected to have Leonard visit but after some years, sure enough he did.

You have probably read about the fabulous promised gift that Leonard recently made to the Metropolitan Museum, consisting of 81 cubist works of art, but what do you think he started to buy from my family gallery?   French 18th century furniture!  After a few years of collecting he invited me for lunch at his home with the Chief Curator of Decorative Arts at the Louvre and an expert in French 18th century, Daniel Alcouffe.  He was suitably impressed and looked forward to Leonard’s collection becoming a great one in the field.  Unfortunately, shortly thereafter the Lauders started on a different track in the decorative arts.  I did, however, see the beginnings of the collection.  It actually amazed me how well the French 18th century went with the modern works, which included a large incredible painting by Gustav Klimt which I personally coveted. 

I remember when Leonard said to me, “Gerry, how about finding me some Cubist pictures?”  I protested that I did not deal in the field of Cubism.  He said, “Well, you sold my brother one.”  Sure enough Ronald had bought many pictures formerly in the Richard S. Davis collection and when a wonderful Picasso drawing came up from that collection I had immediately offered it to him.  The strange life of pictures: one brother owned a great Gustav Klimt which by logic should be in the other brother’s collection (Ronald is co-founder of the Neue Gallerie that specializes in Austrian Secession pictures); and the marvelous Cubist Picasso is also in the “wrong” place… or is it?

How wonderful that Leonard decided to make this collection a promised gift to the Met and not to the Museum of Modern Art that is already strong in the field.   Even better he did not attach strings to the donation.  Unlike a collection like that of Jack and Belle Linsky that must be shown together in perpetuity or the collection goes to another institution, or the Robert Lehman collection that required loan forms for a work to travel from one side of the museum to the other, the Lauder pictures can be shown wherever they may fit with a given installation.  That is the ultimate charitable gesture when a collector doesn’t feel compelled to keep control of their collection after it is given.

I was delighted to see that the introduction to the Met exhibition is two photo-murals which show the Lauder apartment with Cubist paintings together with French 18th century furniture acquired at Rosenberg & Stiebel.

©The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014

The Met exhibition is singular.  It includes the entire promised gift of 81 paintings, drawing and sculptures.  The first room by itself is worth a visit with over a dozen paintings, drawings and a sculpture by Pablo Ruiz y Picasso (1881-1973).  In the first few drawings you see Picasso change his technique from realistic nudes to figures in a Cubist style via imagery borrowed from African art. 

The following gallery is full of pictures by Georges Braque (1882-1963).  Then comes the gallery of the two colleagues together where you see the very clear influence one had on the other, so much so that it not always easy to discern which is which from their pictures.

© 2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso
/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP

The story goes that Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884 -1979) the renowned French art dealer (who was born in Germany and treated as an enemy alien by the French during World War I) was going to visit his artist Picasso when he passed the studio of Juan Gris.  Looking through the window he saw one of Gris’ paintings so he went in and asked to see more.  The artist was making his living as an illustrator but Kahnweiler began to subsidize him so that he could concentrate on his painting.  I found “The Man at the Café”, 1914, particularly intriguing.  You see the figure of the man quite clearly in the center of a Cubist world.

© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS)

The final room is devoted to Joseph Fernand Henri Léger (1881 – 1955).  He was not only a painter and sculptor but a film maker and is thought by some to be a forerunner of the Pop Art movement.  That is my only justification for never having cared particularly for his work!

There is a major catalog for the exhibition written by the co-curators of the show, Emily Braun, who is Leonard’s personal curator, and Rebecca Rabinow who is Leonard A. Lauder curator of Modern Art at the Met.  Rabinow is in charge of the Leonard A. Lauder Research Center of Modern Art, which he also established at the Museum.

What a wonderful introduction to the growth of the Met’s modern and contemporary collections that will soon to be displayed in the Marcel Breuer building that was the former home of the Whitney Museum.

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