Perennial Monet

Monet is always a star with American museums, but this summer he's a superstar. Enthusiasts of the French Impressionist can see his works in any of three major shows: at the San Diego Museum of Art, paintings of his gardens at Giverny; at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, images of the Saint-Lazare train station in Paris; or at Maine's Portland Museum of Art, his landscapes of the French Riviera.

And starting tomorrow, they can queue up for tickets to "Monet in the 20th Century," which opens Sept. 20 at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston.

If you admire his waterlilies, this show is for you. Five massive panels of these much-loved images (including one 19 feet long) were borrowed from collections around the world.

In 1990, the MFA's "Monet in the '90s" drew a record 537,502 visitors. This fall's exhibition is expected to attract even more.

It's no secret that Monet is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. George Shackelford, co-curator of the MFA exhibit with Monet scholar Paul Tucker, tells why: "Monet has a reputation as an artist whose paintings bring delight. His works are seen as soothing and inspirational. And he is one of the great masters of color of all time."

And it just so happens that the qualities most celebrated in Monet's work - the joy, delight, and beauty - come to a brilliant conclusion after 1900, he adds.

These qualities sang to me when I saw Monet's waterlilies up close at the Muse Marmottan in Paris.

In a sense, the softly luminous and atmospheric works take us on vacation. They give us respite from our busy lives and may even inspire us to create our own oasis of serenity. It's no wonder they are summertime's perennial favorites.

But do we really need another Monet exhibit? "The greater the painter, the more there is to show and to investigate," says Mr. Shackelford. "Monet is an artist who is of endless fascination for the public."

Shackelford promises that the MFA show will be "truly revelatory." The 20th century is the least-known period of Monet's career, he explains, and the exhibit will include 20 percent of Monet's work (85 paintings) from that period.

"There is such a thing as a serious blockbuster," he adds.

Wherever we see Monet's works, and whatever we take from them - a greater appreciation of nature's beauty and loveliness or a more scholarly understanding of his important place in the history of art - we can't help but be enriched by yet another look.

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