NEW YORK -- A Ukrainian immigrant who was brought to the United States when she was 6 months old sits in her palatial Fifth Avenue apartment and muses on her new role as one of the the Metropolitan Museum's great patrons.
'Anyway you look at it, it's fantastic,' said Belle Linsky, a small but commanding white-haired woman of 79. 'I'm very pleased because my collection is now where it belongs. Great art belongs to the public.'
Mrs. Linsky was too ill with bronchitis to attend any of the events marking the Met's opening of the Jack and Belle Linsky Galleries to the public June 21. She will see the installation for the first time when her doctor permits.
A series of intimate, silk-walled rooms with finely detailed woodwork house the collection acquired by Mrs. Linsky and her husband, who died in 1980, over a period of 50 years. It includes Old Master paintings, bronze sculptures, French 18th century furnishings, European porcelains, and the work of goldsmiths and jewelers.
These have been conservatively valued by experts at $60 million, making it one of the largest gifts ever received by the Met, comparable to those of J.P. Morgan, H.O. Havemeyer, and Robert Lehman. The gift left Mrs. Linsky's apartment almost empty, although she has retained some favorite paintings and antique furniture.
'I should have kept more,' she commented. 'But the collection became too much of a responsibility, keeping it cool and keeping it humidified. I'm too old to bother with all that nonsense. So instead of living in 14 rooms, I've closed some of them off.'
Jack Linsky's family also emigrated from the Ukraine. They were penniless and he got only a fourth grade education. In his 20s, he invented and began manufacturing the Swingline stapler and later acquired Wilson Jones, the nation's largest looseleaf paper company.
Mrs. Linsky was his business partner in both enterprises. In 1970 they sold Swingline to the American Tobacco Company for $210 million.
Mrs. Linsky was Swingline's efficiency expert ('In one walk through a plant I noticed little things that could be improved that would earn my year's salary'). She believes that an unerring eye for detail gave her an innate advantage as a collector, especially of beautifully proportioned examples of Louis XV furniture.
'If something was one thousandth of an inch off, I'd know it,' she said. 'I never bought a fake.'
Mrs. Linsky bought her first painting when she was 25 and began collecting Faberge art objects in the 1930s. She sold her Faberge collection on advice of an expert and was furious when much of it turned up subsequently in a major Faberge exhibit at the Met.
The Linskys never consulted an expert again, relying on their own eyes and taste for what was truly beautiful, no matter whether the artist was famous or not. They bought mostly at auction and price was no object when it was something they really wanted.
Some of her auction triumphs now on display at the Met are one of Carlo Crivelli's finest madonnas, the first portrait painted by Peter Paul Rubens, a rare Francois Boucher landscape, and Luis Melendez' acknowledged still life masterpiece.
Outstanding are an exquisitely marquetried writing table created for Madame de Pompadour by Jean-Francois Oeben, an unsurpassed Romanesque bronze of a monk riding a dragon, and a 17th century rock crystal ewer by Prague master Ferdinand Miseroni.
Some 229 pieces of porcelain in the collection brings the Met's holdings of an 18th century examples to a level of some of the greatest European collections. ---
They represent the output of most of the well-known French and German factories and include early Russian and Danish porcelains that are almost unknown in American collections.
One of the curious aspects of the collection is the inclusion of four jeweled objects by German goldsmith Reinhold Vasters, one of the 19th century goldsmiths who copied the late Renaissance style so well that their works came on the market as authentic antiques.
The Met catalogue explains that display of Vasters' work represents 'a reappraisal of the activities of a few virtuoso craftsmen working in the second half of the 19th century.' In buying these exquisite objects, the Linskys were following their policy of buying top quality even in stylistic recreations. ---
When she was in her 70s, Mrs. Linsky began collecting modern art for her contemporary Palm Beach, Fla., winter home at the suggestion of her daughter, Muriel Karasik, a Manhattan art dealer. Among the works are paintings by Picasso, Hans Hoffmann, Jackson Pollock, and Franz Kline.
'I haven't bought anything lately,' she said. 'But when I see something that knocks me over, I'll probably buy it.'