ART: The Gift of A Lifetime

After a fevered but discreet competition, the Met wins a tycoon's treasured trove

Museums live by getting. They risk stagnating when the flow of works of art into their permanent collections dries up. Which was just what the art-market boom of the 1980s threatened, by sending prices of certain categories of art -- in particular, Impressionism and early Modernism -- beyond their reach. Hence the fierce, if discreet, competition for big donors among big American museums.

It has been made more acute in the past few years by two factors. First, the shortening supply of American collections that actually contain the kind of things a great museum would want to have. (The 1980s produced...

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