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To have one good museum exhibition is good luck. To have a few, especially during the holiday season, is good fortune - something to be thankful for.

LACMA is hosting two exhibitions. One from Washington D.C. titled "Renoir to Matisse" - with 53 paintings from the famous Phillips Collection. The other, titled "Passion for Drawing" comes from a private collection in Paris and concentrates on French Masters from Poussin to C-zanne.

The most famous of all the masterpieces in the Phillips collection is Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party", undisputedly one of the best-known paintings by French Impressionists. Now it's here in all its easygoing charm. It's difficult to resist the shimmering color and leisurely atmosphere of the afternoon that Renoir captures in this early painting. If only his art had remained at this level of accomplishment instead of the subsequent slow decline leading to the endless pinkish female nudes. Also in the exhibition are a number of good works by Gauguin and Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso. But my favorite is the astonishingly sexy and unusually large Degas painting of a ballerina, appearing as an impossibly romantic butterfly, fluttering against a background of terracotta orange; the color of old palazzos in Rome.

The Pratt collection of French drawings is considered to be among the best private collection of drawings in the world. Imaginatively installed in a series of galleries painted in unusually vivid bright colors, there are numerous gems by such artists as Watteau and Boucher, David and Ingres, Delacroix and C-zanne. While enjoying these drawings, it's difficult not to think about the decline of the craft of drawing, even among the best of today's practitioners. If you think that I'm grouchy, take a look at a couple of amazing drawings by Seurat with his figures appearing and disappearing, as if breathing - in and out - of their silvery charcoal atmosphere.

At the Getty there are another two intriguing exhibitions which couldn't be more different in their appeal. The first consists of hundreds of snapshots by amateur photographers taken between the 1930s and the 1960's. You might be surprised to learn that a number of collectors and museums have recently become seriously interested in acquiring the type of photographs that many of us would frown upon as merely sentimental photos in a family album. I left this exhibition with a newly acquired respect for such snapshots which, in their totality, convincingly comprise and reflect our collective social memory. Hopefully, this exhibition will lead to a new appreciation and safe keeping of so many old photos we habitually and thoughtlessly discard.

The second exhibition at the Getty, which would simply be a crime to miss, has more than twenty C-zanne watercolors brought from various collections around the world. C-zanne's iconic still lifes with their apples, green and blue ceramic jars and crumpled tablecloths have both a sense of domesticity and the gravitas of a sermon delivered by a high priest. Or, putting it in less highfalutin terms: his watercolors will simply knock your socks off! Unless you were born yesterday.

"Passion for Drawing: Poussin to C-zanne"
Works from the Prat Collection
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles
Admission: $9
Ends: January 17, 2005
www.lacma.org 323 857 6000

"Renoir to Matisse: The Eye of Duncan Phillips"
5905 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles
Admission: $20
Ends: January 9 2005
323 857 6000

"Cezanne in the Studio: Still Life in Watercolors"
The Getty Center
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles
Ends: January 2 2005

"Close to Home: An American Album"
The Getty Center
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles
Ends: January 16 2005


Edward Goldman

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