European museums are generally reluctant to lend their masterpieces to other museums around the world. No insurance settlement, after all, can adequately compensate a museum should a few Goyas or Rembrandts end up at the bottom of the ocean.
There are special occasions, however, when the risks seem worth taking, when a particular masterpiece is needed overseas to round out an important survey exhibition of a painter, a style, or a period, or when an institution like the Vatican decides to mount a blockbuster show of its holdings in New York.
Holland's Mauritshuis has another reason for sharing its artistic wealth. It closed down for renovation in 1982 and decided to send some of its paintings on tour rather than placing them in storage. The beneficiaries of this decision are several American, Canadian, and Japanese museums and numerous art lovers who haven't had the opportunity to visit the Mauritshuis's magnificent collection in The Hague.
These 41 paintings on loan from Holland are currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum here. Grouped together under the title ''Dutch Painting of the Golden Age from the Royal Picture Gallery, Mauritshuis,'' they compose a good sampling of what Dutch painters were producing during the 17th century.
That should come as no surprise, however, since the Mauritshuis has long been famous for its collection of Dutch art, and is, in fact, the home of Vermeer's breathtaking ''View of Delft,'' generally regarded as one of the most beautiful and important of all 17th-century paintings.
Although this particular Vermeer did not cross the Atlantic, another one did. ''Head of a Girl'' is one of that artist's simplest and loveliest canvases, and a masterpiece in every sense of the word. It is the outstanding work in this exhibition, and surpasses even Rembrandt's extraordinarily human and vulnerable ''Late Self-Portrait.'' In fact, if truth be told, the Vermeer and this Rembrandt are the only paintings in this exhibition that canlegitimately be described as great - and that's a pity, because artistic greatness was a relatively common commodity in 17th-century Holland.
Most of the greats and near-greats of 17th-century Dutch painting are represented, but generally not by first-rate examples. Hals must do with a tiny, if excellent, oil sketch; Rembrandt (except for the ''Late Self-Portrait''), with early and relatively uninteresting works; Jacob van Ruisdael and Salomon van Ruysdael with lesser-quality landscapes; and Van Ostade with a painting that only hints at what he was capable.
On the other hand, lesser names of the period do very well. Fabritius is represented by his exquisite (and famous) ''The Goldfinch''; Houckgeest by a lovely interior; Metsu by ''Musical Company''; Weenix by a ravishing study of a ''Dead Partridge''; and Potter by his ''The Young Bull.''
But that's about it. Anyone visiting this exhibition in the hope of seeing even a dozen truly great paintings is in for a severe disappointment. The majority of the works on view are of lesser quality - which in this case may still be high considering the overall quality of 17th-century Dutch painting, but which is a disappointment, nevertheless, in the light of the names included. There is something seriously lacking in a highly touted exhibition of Dutch 17 th-century painting if its outstanding works, in addition to a superb Vermeer and an excellent Rembrandt, are by Fabritius, Weenix, Houckgeest, and Potter.
After its closing at the Metropolitan on April 15, this show travels to Tokyo and then to two other museums in Japan. The genius of Honore Daumier
Honore Daumier (1808-1879) was one of the greatest draftsmen of the 19th century. He was also a renowned (and controversial) political and social satirist, an excellent painter, and a sculptor of some accomplishment.
The Amaury Taittinger Gallery here has assembled a small but excellent sampling of Daumier's art. It includes a few drawings, an early oil, and several sculptures, but focuses primarily on his satirical lithographs. Among these are four complete series featuring ''self-styled Nimrods'' and their ignorance of nature; men who are obsessive about one subject; the series ''Quand on a du Guignon'' (when one has no luck); and selected prints from other series.
I have seldom seen such superb impressions outside a museum, but then one doesn't often see Daumier's lithographs on anything but the thin and yellowing newsprint on which the vast bulk of his work was printed for newspaper consumption. The lithographs on view here are all part of the much smaller editions printed on white wove paper, and are both rarer and of much sharper quality.
Walking around this exhibition, I was struck once again by the incredible range and flexibility of this artist's genius. He could draw as easily as the rest of us can write our names, but he could also then take that ability and use it to produce roughly 4,000 lithographs of excellent to absolutely first-rate quality and who knows how many magnificent drawings, watercolors, and oils. His subjects are vibrantly alive, full of character, and precisely delineated - and are as totally of his unique creative world as Dickens's characters are of his.
All of this is very apparent in this exhibition, which will remain on view at the Amaury Taittinger Gallery, 1089 Madison Avenue, through the middle of February.