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Monet's London in St. Petersburg

The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary just the way this gem of a museum should, with a knock-your-socks-off exhibition built around one of its favorite acquisitions.

On Sunday, the museum will open its "Monet's London" exhibit, a remarkable collection of 150 works, including a dozen by French impressionist Claude Monet, focused on the city and the Thames River. The inspiration came from Monet's 1904 painting of London's Houses of Parliament, one of the museum's most cherished pieces.

Through bargaining, horse trading and pleading, chief curator Jennifer Hardin and her small staff spent three years securing the works to complete Hardin's vision. The exhibition, formally titled "Monet's London: Artists' Reflections on the Thames, 1859-1914," combines paintings, prints, photographs and drawings from 30 different museums and collections in the United States and Europe. That is a Herculean task in today's competitive and jealously protective art world.

Like the "Treasures of the Czars" exhibit at the Florida International Museum, the Fine Arts Museum's recent Chihuly glass exhibit, and the Salvador Dali Museum at any time, "Monet's London" is going to be a must-see for culturally engaged residents. This is the kind of sophisticated and comprehensive show that one might expect at some of the nation's most influential art institutions, which have far deeper pockets. And, in fact, after leaving St. Petersburg in April, the exhibition will move to the much larger venues of the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

"Monet's London" will be a treat for the occasional museum visitor as well as the more scholarly art enthusiasts. The exhibition also will generate residual benefits, injecting adrenaline into other local arts institutions and galleries _ the Arts Center is piggybacking an exhibit of contemporary works by British artists _ and raising the profile of the Museum of Fine Arts within the hermetic world of art museum curators.

The entire museum staff and its director, John Schloder, are to be congratulated for pulling together such a prestigious show. It will be a memorable anniversary. Their only problem: How to top it for their 50th?

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