Met gets $1 billion in art


NEW YORK -- Walter H. Annenberg, publisher, philanthropist and formerly U.S. ambassador in London, said yesterday that he would bequeath roughly $1 billion worth of paintings to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The gift, which will be the largest single donation in more than a half-century to the museum's department of French impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, includes Mr. Annenberg's entire collection of more than 50 paintings by Manet, Degas, Monet, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne, van Gogh, Seurat, Gauguin, Bonnard, Vuillard, Matisse, Picasso and Braque.

Among the works included in the gift are Cezanne's late "Mont Ste. Victoire," Gauguin's "Siesta," van Gogh's "Berceuse," Picasso's "Lapin Agile" and Renoir's "Daughters of Catulle Mendes."

The paintings will go to the Met after the death of Mr. Annenberg, who will be 83 tomorrow. Mr. Annenberg's decision leaves the Met the clear winner in an informal competition among several of the nation's leading museums for his collection, which has been on a national tour that has included stops at many of the institutions that had hoped to win the collection.

"Much as I respect the other institutions that have lately shown our collection -- the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington -- I happen to believe in strength going to strength, and I think that the Met is the proper repository for them."

At one time, there was widespread speculation that a private museum might be set up for the collection on the Annenberg estate in Palm Springs, Calif.

Last year, when he was approached by a Japanese organization offering $1 billion for the collection, Mr. Annenberg recalled yesterday, he told them, "I appreciate your offer, but you are asking me to sell members of my family."

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