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$100 million gift set to transform Colby College Museum of Art

In 2007 the Lunders gave the college more than 500 works of art valued at more than $100 million, and in 2013 the museum opened the $15 million Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion (above) to display the works.The Estate of Sol LeWitt/Trent Bell Photography

Maine’s Colby College Museum of Art has received a gift worth more than $100 million from longtime Colby benefactors Peter and Paula Lunder, including nearly 1,150 artworks and funds to establish the Lunder Institute for American Art. College officials said the transformative gift will make Colby unique among liberal arts colleges, offering what they describe as a world-class art museum and an international research center for the study of American art.

“The Lunders’ generosity has transformed Colby College and the arts landscape in Maine,” Colby president David A. Greene said in a statement. “Now, with this gift to significantly expand the collection and create the Lunder Institute, the Museum will become a global destination for artists, scholars, and visitors.”


The gift to the art museum, the largest in Maine, includes works dating from 1501 to 2014 by more than 150 artists, including Vincent Van Gogh, Rembrandt Van Rijn, Albrecht Dürer, Georgia O’Keeffe, Maya Lin, Claes Oldenburg, James McNeill Whistler, Ai Weiwei, Jasper Johns, and Mary Cassatt.

Colby College Museum of Art director Sharon Corwin said the Lunders’ gift would have a major effect on the museum’s acclaimed collection, which previously contained about 8,000 works.

“It’s an extraordinary expansion of an already strong collection,” said Corwin, noting that with the Lunders’ contribution, the school now has 346 works by Whistler. “They’ve created a collection of real depth in certain artists, but also of real breadth. This collection really puts us on the map as a major international arts destination.”

The Lunders, who worked with the museum’s curatorial staff to build the collection, have sought with their collection to articulate connections between American art and the rest of the world, paying particular attention to the evolution of specific artists. Among its holdings is a famed series of 100 etchings by Pablo Picasso known as the “Vollard Suite,” and 377 paintings and works on paper from the estate of Arthur Wesley Dow.


Pablo Picasso’s Blind Minataur Led by a Little Girl in the Night, 1934. LUNDER COLLECTION

Corwin declined to say how much money the Lunders were providing to establish the new institute, but she characterized the donation as “significant.” She added that the institute will initially be housed in the Waterville museum, though it might eventually move to another building on campus or a structure elsewhere in the city.

“It will allow us to bring world-renowned scholars, artists, and curators to Colby for residencies,” said Corwin, who also serves as the museum’s chief curator. She added that the institute, which will offer residencies that range from several weeks to a year, will lead to “interesting projects and artworks to advance the field in significant ways.”

Vincent Van Gogh — Portrait of Dr. Gauchet L'Homme a la Pipe, 1890LUNDER COLLECTION

As longtime supporters of the college, the Lunders have made several sizable donations in the past. In the mid-1990s, they gave the lead gift for the museum’s Lunder Wing, later endowing a curatorial position in American art. In 2007 they gave the college more than 500 works of art valued at more than $100 million, and in 2013 the museum opened the $15 million Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion to display the works. Peter Lunder is a life overseer at Colby, and Paula Lunder is a life trustee for the school. All told, they have given or promised to give the school more than 1,500 artworks.

“We are delighted that our art collection will be shared with future Colby students, the Waterville community, and visitors to Maine, and we know that Colby College will do a marvelous job enhancing the collection with their academic programs,” the Lunders said in a statement. “We feel that Colby is the perfect home for our collection.”


Ai Weiwei’s “Colored Vases 2006-2008,” part of the gift.Lunder Collection

Malcolm Gay can be reached at malcolm.gay@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @malcolmgay.