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Art collector leaves estate to NYU

Published Oct. 6, 2005

Writer Sir Harold Acton left his 57-acre estate and his priceless art collection to New York University in what is thought to be one of the largest donations made to a U.S. university.

Acton, 89, died Sunday at the estate in Italy. The writer and historian had published more than 25 books, including The Last Medici (1932), Peonies and Ponies (1941) and a collection of short stories The Soul's Gymnasium (1982).

The estate, named La Pietra, includes five villas, the art collection and libraries filled with thousands of volumes on art, literature, music and history.

"There is no way to put a monetary value on this extraordinary gift," NYU President L. Jay Oliva said Monday. "This is probably the largest gift ever given to an American university."

He said the collection includes 15th-century Flemish tapestries woven for the Medicis, paintings by Giotto precursors and students, Romanesque sculptures and a Donatello relief of virgin and child.

Acton, who left no survivors, had been associated with NYU since the 1960s, Oliva said.

Acton stipulated that the estate overlooking Florence must be used as the site of international seminars. Oliva said the university also planned to operate the estate as a campus.

Acton, who once taught English literature at the National University in Beijing, used the estate to entertain such 20th-century luminaries as Winston Churchill, writers D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley and Graham Greene, and sculptor Henry Moore.