Art-loving US couple gives multimillion-dollar collection of 187 works to Paris museum

US collector Marlene Hays signs a donation of painting masterpieces to the Musee d'Orsay next to her husband Spencer Hays at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France on Oct 22, 2016.
US collector Marlene Hays signs a donation of painting masterpieces to the Musee d'Orsay next to her husband Spencer Hays at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France on Oct 22, 2016. PHOTO: AFP
American collector Spencer Hays points at someone as he delivers a speech following his donation of painting masterpieces to the Musee d'Orsay at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Oct 22, 2016.
American collector Spencer Hays points at someone as he delivers a speech following his donation of painting masterpieces to the Musee d'Orsay at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Oct 22, 2016.PHOTO: AFP
French President Francois Hollande applauds as he stands with American collectors Marlene and Spencer Hays after they were named Commandeur de la Legion d'Honneur at a ceremony in Paris.
French President Francois Hollande applauds as he stands with American collectors Marlene and Spencer Hays after they were named Commandeur de la Legion d'Honneur at a ceremony in Paris. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - A Texan couple who discovered their love for art during a trip to Paris in the 1970s are to donate the multimillion dollar collection they have amassed since to the French capital.

Businessman Spencer Hays and his wife Marlene were in the city on Saturday (Oct 22) to formalise the first instalment of their donation - 187 works including pieces by Edgar Degas and Amedeo Modigliani worth around 173 million euros (S$262 million) - to the Musee d'Orsay.

"When Marlene and I grew up in a little town in Gainesville, Texas, even visiting France was far beyond our great expectations. But in 1971 we made our first trip to Paris, and our love affair with this wonderful country began," Mr Hays told a crowd that included President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace.

"After our death, our collection will be gifted to the French people for the benefit of art lovers around the world. But, even more important to us, this collection is our legacy," he added.

The couple, who are both aged 80 and have been married for 60 years, have a collection of some 600 works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries worth 350 million euros - and it continues to grow.

"The people who know you know your collection gets bigger around July 14 and December 7, because those are your birthdays. And this year, once again, Marlene, you gave Spencer a Matisse, and you, Spencer, gave Marlene a Modigliani... It wasn't easy to live up to that!" Mr Hollande said.

The President added that the couple had given France not only their collection but also "access to culture for everyone".

"Your act, your donation, honours the French Republic," he said during a ceremony in which the couple received the distinction of commander of the Legion d'Honneur, one of the country's highest honours.