MOST of the nation's art museums are less than half a century old, but they have shot up fast. This week the Minneapolis Institute of Arts celebrated its 40th anniversary with an exhibition of 40 masterpieces culled from its collection of some 25,000 art objects. The museum's latest acquisition, a Chardin (opposite), is perhaps the most brilliant painting in the show.

Chardin was in his honored 60s when he painted the picture, and living contentedly as a "King's Pensioner" in the Louvre. When first displayed in 1769 (three years after it was finished), his canvas drew a parade of exclamation points from...

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