New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art has received a "transformational" gift: an esteemed collection of cubist art donated by Leonard Lauder and valued at more than $1 billion US.

The philanthropist, executive and heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetics fortune has pledged his collection of 78 works — amassed over nearly four decades — to the popular Manhattan art and art history venue.

Featuring pieces by cubist movement founders Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, as well as work by Fernand Léger and Juan Gris, Lauder's collection is considered one of the foremost collections of cubism in the world.

The gift is "truly transformational for the Metropolitan Museum," director and CEO Thomas Campbell said, adding that the donation will fill a critical spot in the Met's modern art holdings.

"Now, cubism will be represented with some of its greatest masterpieces."

Highlights include:

  • Picasso's The Scallop Shell (Notre avenir est dans l’air) (1912), Woman in an Armchair (Eva) (1913), and Still Life with Cards, Glasses, and Bottle of Rum: "Vive la France" (1914; partially reworked 1915);
  • Braque's Trees at L'Estaque (1908) and The Violin (Mozart/Kubelick) (1912);
  • Léger's Houses under the Trees (1913) and Composition (The Typographer) (1917-18);
  • Gris's Portrait of the Artist's Mother (1912) and Figure Seated in a Café (Man at a Table) (1914).

"This is a gift to the people who live and work in New York and those from around the world who come to visit our great arts institutions," Lauder said in a statement.

"The arts are a cornerstone of the cultural, educational, and economic vitality of the city."

Lauder, who has been involved with the Met for decades, has also previously donated funds and modern art from his personal collection to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

His cubist collection is slated to go on display in a new exhibition beginning in fall 2014, museum officials said.

In co-ordination with the gift, the Met also announced plans to establish a new research centre named after Lauder and devoted to modern art, supported by a $22 million endowment fund.

With files from The Associated Press