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AMERICAN COUPLE DONATES COLLECTION TO FRENCH MUSEUM

American businessman Spencer Hays and his wife Marlene, both 80, have donated their huge collection of French art, worth $281 million, to France's Musee d'Orsay.

Spencer & Marlene Hays

Spencer & Marlene Hays have been building their collection since the early 1970's

The collection is made up of 600 pieces of French art, ranging from the late C19th to the early C20th, featuring works by the likes of Edgar Degas and Amedeo Modigliani.

In October 2016, the couple were in Paris for the official ceremony at the Elysée Presidential Palace, where an initial gift of 187 works was transferred, and the couple received the distinction of Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour),  one of the country's highest honours.

"Your act, your donation, honours the French Republic," said President Francois Hollande, who was present for the ceremony.

The couple already had a close relationship with Musee d'Orsay, who showcased a selection from the Hays collection in 2013, in an exhibition entitled 'A French Passion'.  The museum will relocate its library and archives to make room for the Hays collection, which French Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay described as "the largest a French museum has received from a foreign donor since 1945".

Mr and Mrs Hays have been married for 60 years, and started building their collection in the 1970's, after their first trip to Paris.  Spencer Hays said; "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."

"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.

To read more on this story, visit France24.