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Hollande honours US couple after €350m art donation

French president François Hollande gives award to American couple Marlene and Spencer Hays, 22 October 2016
French president François Hollande gives award to American couple Marlene and Spencer Hays, 22 October 2016 AFP

French President François Hollande has awarded the Commander's grade of the Légion d'Honneur to an American couple who donated 350 million euros worth of artwork to Paris's Musée d'Orsay.


Spencer and Marlene Hays, from Nashville, Tennessee, are to leave their collection of 600 late 19th- and early 20th-century artworks to the Musée d'Orsay after their death.

Hollande said the couple's generous act had honoured France by making art accessible to everyone.

The Hayses, both 80, donated an initial 187 pieces, worth an estimated €173 million euros during an official ceremony at the Elysée presidential palace in Paris on Saturday evening.

Their collection includes such famed artists as Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, Edgar Degas, Aristide Maillol, Amedeo Modigliani.

The pair came to France in 1971, the first of many trips.

They went on to built a replica of the Hôtel de Noirmoutier - an 18th-century mansion located on the rue de Grenelle in Paris’s chic seventh arroondissement - in Nashville filling it and their New York apartement with their art collection and French antiques.

Over the past 15 years, the Hayses have developed a close relationship with the Musée d’Orsay, which showcased a selection from the couple’s collection in a 2013 exhibition, A French Passion.

“They are collectors who are interested in French art from the second half of the 19th century, with paintings that are very realistic and serene, which depict Parisian life, because their great love is France – it’s Paris,” Isabelle Cahn, head curator at the Musée d’Orsay, told France Info radio.

The museum, which already owns five out of nine panels in the Vuillard series “Public Gardens”, is now set to obtain a sixth through the couple’s donation.

Cahn also said the French rule that prohibits donated collections being broken up and sold, as they can be in the US, played a role in the couple's decision.

Musée d'Orsay's president Guy Cogeval says they will move the library and archives to make room for the collection to be displayed in one space, as the couple wishes.

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