A Joy Ride for Art Lovers : Getty's new Monet exemplifies the growing riches of museums across the Los Angeles area

Claude Monet's "Wheatstacks (Snow Effect, Morning)" went on public view last week at the Getty Museum in Malibu, enriching the region's cultural life. The piece is one of a series done by the French Impressionist master in the late 1800s, all of the same subject, haystacks in a field, which Monet painted at different seasons and times of the day. To see this 1891 oil--exhibited only twice before--is to understand the enduring appeal of the Impressionists and our good fortune in having the Getty.

Once primarily known for its classics, the Getty collection continues to broaden as the target date of 1997 approaches for the opening of the new Getty Center on a prominence above Interstate 405 in Brentwood. The collection, which will move to the new center, also includes works by Edgar Degas, Jean Francois Millet and Theodore Gericault, which were bought at the same time as the Monet.

The Monet exemplifies a happy trend in the museums of Los Angeles: While we do not have the so-called encyclopedic museums of Paris, New York, St. Petersburg or London, we have a number of outstanding museums with world-class art.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a pioneer among premier art museums in Southern California and situated on Wilshire Boulevard, displays monumental works such as Paul Cezanne's "Under the Trees" and the 17th-Century masterpiece by Georges de La Tour, "Magdalen with the Smoking Flame."

If your taste favors contemporary art, no museum in the nation has more dynamism than Downtown's Museum of Contemporary Art, which houses a splendid collection of post-1945 works.

In San Marino, the Huntington Library's collection of 18th-Century English portraits has no equal in these parts, and Pasadena's Norton Simon Museum is a treasure house of works by Raphael, Degas, Picasso and Van Gogh.

To cover all these, you will have to drive considerable distances or be willing to spend more than a little time on a bus, but ranging from Malibu to San Marino with stops in the Wilshire district, Downtown and Pasadena is merely the Angeleno version of museum-hopping on the London Tube or the Paris Metro. It's a trip worth taking, again and again.

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