US Collectors Donate $380 Million Worth of Art to Musée d’Orsay, Paris

François Hollande officially honored the American collector couple.

Marlene and Spencer Hays with Edouard Vuillard's Les Premiers Pas (1894) in April 2013 at the Orsay Museum in Paris. Photo courtesy Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images.
Marlene and Spencer Hays with Edouard Vuillard's Les Premiers Pas (1894) in April 2013 at the Orsay Museum in Paris. Photo courtesy Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images.

American collector couple Spencer and Marlene Hays have donated their hefty collection of French art to the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The collection of more than 600 works of 19th- and 20th-century art, by artists like Edgar Degas, Amedeo Modigliani, Gustave Caillebotte, and the avant-garde Nabi Group, is worth over $380 million. French president François Hollande has honored the couple for their generosity to France, RFI reports.

The American collector couple became interested in French art in the 1970s. As they started decorating their homes—a New York apartment and a copy of an 18th-century Parisian mansion in Nashville—they discovered the Nabis, a group whose work perfectly fit the job: after all, the Post-Impressionist Nabis focused on the decorative function of painting.

Spencer Hays presents Gustave Caillebotte's Nature morte au Homard at the Orsay Museum in Paris. Photo courtesy Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images.

Spencer Hays presents Gustave Caillebotte’s Nature morte au Homard at the Orsay Museum in Paris. Photo courtesy Francois Guillot/AFP/Getty Images.

Through textures, patterns, and color, the Nabis embraced ideas and forms that bled into the worlds of arts and crafts, as well as design. The name comes from the Hebrew word for “prophets,” and was headed by artists Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, and Édouard Vuillard.

The Hayses’ collection contains four works by Denis, 12 by Bonnard, and 23 by Vuillard.

A work from the Hayses collection on view at the Musee D'Orsay in 2013. Photo courtesy Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images.

A work from the Hayses’ collection on view at the Musee D’Orsay in 2013. Photo courtesy Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images.

Some 187 works with a combined value of €173 million were given to the museum this past weekend. The rest of the collection will be bequeathed to the D’Orsay after the death of the couple. The museum will dedicate a 900-square-meter (9687 square foot) room to the collection, which, the Hayses specified, must be kept together. A significant acquisition for the museum, the library and archives will be moved in order to make space for the new works.

This isn’t the first time the Hayses have given back to France, making their private collection accessible to the public. In 2013, the D’Orsay hosted the exhibition, “The Collection of Marlene and Spencer Hays. A Passion for France.” The couple was awarded the medal of the Officer of the National Order of the Legion of Honor.

On occasion of this donation, president Hollande has officially honored Mr. and Mrs. Hays once again, this time bestowing them with the Commander ranking, an even higher distinction.


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