The Tate Britain and the National Gallery received a generous gift of the late supermarket tycoon Simon Sainsbury. He left 18 paintings worth as much as 100 million pounds (US$200 million, €97 million) in a bequest that the two galleries described as the most significant in memory.
The paintings, including works of Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Thomas Gainsborough and Francis Bacon, came from Sainsbury's private collection. The great-grand grandson of the grocery chain's founder died last year.
The Tate will receive 13 works, including paintings by Bacon, Gainsborough and Lucien Freud. The National Gallery will receive five of paintings - two works by Monet and paintings by Degas, Paul Gauguin and Henri Rousseau.
Both Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate, and Christopher Riopelle, a curator at the National Gallery, said the gift was one of the most significant in history.
"Pictures of this quality are extremely expensive and it's getting harder and harder for public institutions to purchase them," Riopelle said.
Riopelle said that, as paintings continue to increase in price, donations from collectors will become more important.
In choosing the paintings, Sainsbury, who was close to both institutions and donated funds to open a new wing of the National Gallery, aimed to play to the strengths of each museum, Serota and Riopelle said.
The National Gallery, for example, already has 12 Monets in its collection, but the addition of the largest and most atmospheric of Monet's snow scenes, as well one of his later works of water lilies, will add depth to the collection.
"Of course, you can never have too many," Riopelle said.
All 18 paintings will go on display at the Tate Britain in the summer of 2008. Immediately after, they will be incorporated into permanent displays in each museum.