On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Neue Galerie, 500 works from the collection of Ronald S. Lauder – museum President and co-founder, and one of two heirs to the Estée Lauder cosmetics fortune – are now on display, many for the first time. The collection is on view through April 17, 2023.
One of the most significant contributors to the Neue Galerie’s collection is Ronald Lauder, a businessman, philanthropist, and art collector. Lauder’s passion for art and his desire to preserve the cultural heritage of Germany and Austria led him to acquire some of the most remarkable pieces of art from this period – including iconic works by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Franz Marc. Among the notable pieces in Lauder’s collection is Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, also known as “The Woman in Gold,” which is widely considered to be one of the most important artworks of the 20th century.
The range of the 500-piece collection currently on display is however, one not traditionally associated with the Neue Galerie – inter alia, Lauder’s private collection of masterworks of Greek and Roman art, Italian paintings from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and several pieces from the Northern Renaissance.
Developed over 6 decades, the last time this eclectic collection was on display was over a decade ago. Lauder amassed one of the finest private collections in the world: on display are masterworks such as Hans Memling’s “Virgin Suckling the Child” and Lucas Cranach the Elder’s ‘Portrait of Johann Friedrich the Magnanimous as Electoral Prince.’ Works by the latter were especially sought after by Lauder with keen interest, as an aficionado of Old Master paintings.
Lauder’s collection of Italian gold-ground, proto-Renaissance works especially reflect the collector’s superb taste. Giovanni di Paolo’s “Saint Clare Rescuing the Shipwreck,” is Lauder’s favorite. “No picture in the whole collection has fascinated me more,” he says. Saint Clare appears, guiding the sailors to safety through a storm – herself a source of surreal light in the painting as she gathers the ship’s tattered sails.
A running theme of the exhibition is restitution – which “has always been the thing I work the hardest at,” says Lauder. Both the portrait of Johann Friedrich the Magnanimous by Cranach and the panel of Saint Clare by Giovanni di Paolo had been seized by the Nazis in the 1930s – respectively owned by art collector Friedrich Gutmann and the Fuld family – and respectively returned to these families in 2017 and 2019, later acquired by Lauder. Restitutions are noted in the painting labels, intentionally bringing to light the fraught provenance of the works.
For those acquainted with the breadth of European museums, Lauder’s collection is a bejeweled microcosm thereof, an impactful display of a private, expansive and longstanding devotion to beauty. “It is impossible for me to imagine my life without my works of art,” says Lauder. The collection is a powerful testament to this lifelong passion, arranged in a domestically-scaled setting to model how they appear in Lauder’s own home.
After visiting the exhibit, one need only queue up in the hopes of snagging a piece of Sacher torte from the famous museum café.