• Fernand Léger
    The Village, 1914
    Oil on canvas

© 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

From October 20 to February 16, 2015, the Met is displaying the most significant collection of cubist art still in private hands. Leonard A. Lauder, Chairman of the Estee Lauder groups, started his collection in 1976 and has acquired over 80 pieces in the past 40 years, selectively focusing on the four essential Cubist artists: Picasso, Braque, Gris and Léger.

Cubism originated in Paris in the years before the First World War, and profoundly challenged traditional notions of reality. Through the emphasis of the two-dimensional surface of pictures or the collage technique, Cubist artists revolutionized the very definition of art by exploring new ways of understanding the world.

Adopting a thematic approach, the exhibit shows the central elements that defined and influenced the artists’ work – Picasso and his nudes, Braque and music, Leger’s post-War purism, and Gris’s collages inspired by the fictional criminal mastermind Fantômas. We also discover the stylistic evolution of Braque and Picasso and the results of their collaboration: in the third room, the pairing of Braque’s and Picasso’s works – such as Braque’s “Still Life with Clarinet (Bottle and Clarinet)” and Picasso’s “Pedestal Table, Glasses, Cups, Mandolin” – reveals the two artists’ very different sensibilities and styles in approaching common themes such as still life or the relationship between words and images.

This personal, yet colossal collection has nonetheless an intimate quality to it: although visitors are surrounded by masterpieces such as Leger’s “Composition (The Typographer)” or Picasso’s “Head of a Woman,” the “home to museum” dynamic of this exhibition conveys a sense of proximity and offers a close insight into Lauder’s cubist temple.

Lauder’s unique and astonishing collection is illustrative of the influence Cubism still has today. This exhibition is a promised donation to the Met – a transformative gift to the museum and the public.