Few months, Baltimore and Boston have lent...

FOR THE PAST

January 20, 1992

FOR THE PAST few months, Baltimore and Boston have lent one another their greatest art treasures -- Matisses and Picassos from Baltimore in exchange for Monets from Boston. As a trade between two museums -- the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts -- that have the best collections of these renowned painters outside Paris, it was a natural.

Now that the great switch is coming to an end, we wondered what the Boston Globe thought of our Cone Collection. The answer: Wistful and wonderful.

Wistful because "Boston collections are impoverished as far as early 20th Century School of Paris painting goes." Wonderful because the "astonishing hoard" amassed by the Cone sisters, Claribel and Etta, allowed Bostonians at last to see a lot of Picasso and Matisse even if they were denied their magnificent Monets for a few months -- to the delight of Baltimoreans.

Boston critics were ecstatic about "the flat patterning of Matisse; the jagged, disjointed Picasso 'Study for Nude with Drapery'; Cezanne's chunky brushstrokes." What they did not comment upon (out of politeness?) was the stark, modern framing of some of the best paintings.

One of our agents who paid $6.50 to see the visiting collection from Boston at the BMA couldn't help but observe how much ornate, period framing added to the magic of Monet. They accented the feeling conveyed by this great artist -- perhaps, for all we know, because he had a hand in the selection of the frames. In contrast, the modern frames that have been put on Baltimore Matisses convey a sterile quality that, in our agent's view, detract and distract, even if this is the opposite of their purpose.

Not that we want to re-start an old argument.

* * * THE U.S. POSTAL Service, which has angered Americans with its long lines and seemingly endless stamp price increases, is apparently trying to redeem itself by remaking its image -- from a dusty, plodding bureaucracy to a bunch of guys and gals who know how to have a little fun while delivering the mail.

The post office is now taking entries in an Elvis Presley stamp contest.

Later this year a panel of citizens will select one, and the Presley stamp will appear as part of a new "Legends of Americans" series in 1993.

The whole thing, says retiring Postmaster General Anthony Frank, is supposed to be fun. And "the American people are not having a lot of fun right now."

No argument on that score.

Moreover, given the obsession in this country with almost everything about Elvis Presley, music aside, Mr. Frank might well be right.

But even the creative postmaster general himself is forgetting one important legal aspect of this contest: It's still illegal to issue stamps honoring people until they're dead.

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