"I guess it's inherited," mused Este'e Lauder. "My husband always took the boys to a different museum every weekend. Ronald's always collected, even as a young boy."

The younger of her "boys" -- who left the family cosmetics business to become deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy -- was accepting congratulatory handshakes and kisses from a black-tie crowd of 200 tonight as the Museum of Modern Art dedicated the Ronald S. Lauder Galleries (third floor, turn left at the Frank Stella).

Ronald Lauder, a former New York GOP fundraiser and a MOMA trustee, not only contributed the 3,000-square-foot space but is hoping to populate it with drawings from his collection. "I happen to love drawings, the way you can see the artist's soul," he said while pointing out the Ce'zanne, two de Koonings, a Jasper Johns and -- his wife Jo Carole's favorite -- an untitled Jackson Pollock, all of which he donated to the museum.

The museum owns 6,000 works on paper and "we can now start to show them," said curator John Elderfield. "This is the first time we've had galleries exclusively for drawing in the history of the museum."

The guests were "kind of art and kind of business and New York," as Paine Webber chairman Donald Marron observed from his 6-foot-6 vantage.

The gathering occasioned a certain amount of homesickness. "I absolutely miss New York," Ronald Lauder, now a Georgetown resident, acknowledged. "It is the most fabulous city in the world."

Where else could Blanchette Rockefeller, who'd briefly left her duties as MOMA president to help son Jay with his senatorial campaign ("Flying around in airplanes and things, visiting -- what do you call them? -- rallies"), chat before dinner with attorney Roy Cohn. She also embraced Philip Johnson, architect of the pre-expansion museum, and Leonard Lauder, president of Este'e Lauder Inc., who called his younger brother "the taste maker in the family."

Lily Auchincloss, who preceded Ronald Lauder as chairman of the drawings committee, talked acquisition with San Antonio philanthropist R. L. Tobin.

"The Lauders are aficionados of Washington now," said their friend Martin Segal, the Lincoln Center chairman. This prompted Jo Lauder to confess, "I miss New York and Lincoln Center and Martin," adding diplomatically, "There are wonderful things in both cities."

National Gallery director J. Carter Brown, who headed the Washington contingent, the secretary of defense having sent his regrets, claimed to feel no twinges of jealousy. "Everyone ought to have multiple loyalties," he said. "The art world in general is such a tiny slice of the American pie, anything any of us can do to widen the slice is to everyone's benefit."

Brown was using the motorized conveyance he's relied on since he was injured in an auto accident last summer in England. "I'm down to only one crutch," he declared. But walking has had its drawbacks. "This thing is wonderful for museums."

Eventually MOMA director Richard Oldenburg quieted the cocktail hubbub sufficiently for William Paley, museum board chairman and former CBS chief, to begin the remarks. He lauded Lauder for possessing "the eye of a connoisseur and the zeal of a true collector."

Then everyone headed for the Members' Dining Room (second floor, left at the Miro' mural, past the Monets) for lobster thermidor, roast baby pheasant and more speeches.