The largest gift to a French museum from a foreign donor since 1945 comprises late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French masterworks, including pieces by Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, Edgar Degas, Amedeo Modigliani, and Henri Matisse, and includes 187 pieces worth an estimated $188 million that were showcased in a 2013 exhibition at the museum. The entire collection will be transferred to France after the Hayses' deaths, and the museum has agreed to move its library and archive to create a dedicated space where the collection can be displayed intact.
Spencer Hays, founder of the Tom James Company, and his wife grew up in a small town in Texas. The couple began buying art shortly after they first visited France in 1971, and they have returned to the country every year since, even building a replica of an eighteenth-century Paris mansion in Nashville. "Even in our wildest dreams, we never thought that we'd come here to donate a collection of art work to the French, to the Musée d'Orsay!" Hays told France Info radio.
"They are collectors who are interested in French art from the second half of the nineteenth century, with paintings that are very realistic and serene, which depict Parisian life, because their great love is France — it's Paris," head curator Isabelle Cahn told France Info, also noting that a French law prohibiting museums from selling pieces donated to their collections might also explain the couple's decision not to donate the works to a U.S. museum. "There's a rule that most certainly played a role, which [makes it] impossible to break up a collection, unlike American museums, which can relinquish works and sell them."