The Musée d’Orsay has received one of its largest ever donations after the US collectors Marlene and Spencer Hays announced they will give 187 turn-of-the-century masterpieces to the Paris museum. The gift includes works by Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard and Odilon Redon.
Audrey Azoulay, the French culture secretary, told France24 TV: “This donation, which is exceptional for its size and coherence, is the largest a French museum has received from a foreign donor since 1945.” A statement from the French Ministry of Culture says that all 600 works owned by the couple will eventually be donated to the museum.
The couple has specified that the works, to be bequeathed after they die, should be exhibited in a single space rather than dispersed throughout the museum. A selection of works from the Hays’ collection was shown at the Musée d’Orsay in the 2013 exhibition A French Passion.
According to the museum website: “The Hays hail from humble Texan backgrounds, being educated far from museums, and their knowledge of art history is self-taught. They began buying paintings in the early 1970s to decorate their house in Nashville.” Spencer Hays runs several businesses encompassing publishing and men’s clothing. The couple first visited France in 1971.
The French art critic Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges writes on the website, La Tribune de l’Art, that the collectors might have been swayed by French museum protocol. “Works in public collections in France are inalienable [cannot be sold] unlike US museums which can sell works to buy others,” she says.