SUMMER visitors to Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art last week threaded their way through one of the finest shows the museum has ever mounted: close to 160 "modern" paintings (by the museum's definition, "modern" harks all the way back to Edouard Manet), all borrowed from private collectors. The exhibition was eye-opening evidence of the success U.S. collectors have had in capturing some of the gems of 19th and 20th century European painting. From his private contributors, Curator Alfred H. Barr Jr. was able to put together a selection that few public collections in the U.S. or Europe could approach.

This week the...

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