French President Francois Hollande has honored a US couple for pledging their 350-million-euro art collection to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. The gift is the biggest foreign collection to be donated to France in 60 years.
Texans Marlene and Spencer Hays (photo above) are bequeathing to the Musee d'Orsay in Paris some 600 works dating from the second half of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century.
For their pledge, the couple was awarded the Legion of Honor, one of France's highest distinctions, at a ceremony at the presidential Elysee Palace on Saturday evening.
"Dear Marlene Hays, dear Spencer Hays, you are making the most precious donation to France: that of your collection and your gesture that we all wait to share: access to culture," President Francois Hollande said. "Your act, your donation, honors the French Republic."
'Art belongs to no one'
The collection, which dates back to 1975, includes paintings by Odilon Redon, Edgar Degas, Gustave Caillebotte, Camille Corot, Aristide Maillol, Amedeo Modigliani and Albert Marquet.
"When Marlene and I were young, in the small town of Gainesville, even a simple visit to France seemed beyond our dreams," Spencer Hays said.
"But in 1971 we made our first trip to Paris and that's when our wonderful story of love for this country began." Both the Hays are now aged 80 and have been married for 60 years.
"Art belongs to no one," Hays said. "We are just the custodians. We want everyone to benefit from our collection."
"It all began here," he added. "We are happy that we have brought them back here so that the French public will appreciate them as much as we do."
jm/cmk (AFP, AP)