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Ruth Fremson for The New York Times

It Was Hip to Be Square 'Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection,' Starring Picasso and Braque (By Roberta Smith)

In the five years before World War I, Cubism stopped Western art in its tracks, turned it upside down and inside out, and set it on multiple paths to abstraction. Now, a century on, this dynamic style is reshaping the Metropolitan Museum of Art, thanks to the public-minded largess of one man, the collector and lifelong New Yorker Leonard A. Lauder.

Starting Monday, visitors can enjoy and take stock of one of the most transformative gifts in the museum's gift-laden history: the 81 Cubist works that Mr. Lauder, the chairman emeritus of Estée Lauder, has promised the Met or enabled it to purchase.

This initial look comes in the form of "Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection," an exhilarating exhibition laid out with a sharp sense of history and some humor by Rebecca Rabinow, a Met curator, and Emily Braun, an art historian and private curator who helped Mr. Lauder assemble his collection. A personal, thought-through assembly of artworks, the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection, as it will henceforth be known, comes with no restrictions. It is a sterling act of philanthropy.

Mr. Lauder focused exclusively on the four horsemen of the Cubist apocalypse: Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Juan Gris and Fernand Léger, who all worked in Paris in the first quarter of the 20th century. In seven galleries, the works - roughly half on canvas and half on paper (including collages), along with two sculptures by Picasso - outline the genesis of the modernist movement that set the stage for almost all others. Most date from 1907 to 1918; several represent key turning points.

As usual with all things Cubist, and despite Braque's essential contributions, Picasso is the star and resident demon here, a sharp-eyed collaborator and relentless innovator. And this is not just because he is represented in here by twice as many works: 34, compared with Braque's 17 and 15 each for Gris and Léger.

At first, Picasso and Braque worked under the spell of Cézanne from different directions. The show opens with three Braque canvases in which he bids farewell to Fauvism and starts chopping the landscape into Cézanne's cylinders, spheres and cones, most notably in the monumental "Trees at L'Estaque" from 1908, perhaps the most powerful Braque in a New York museum.

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