Art museum celebrates Monet exhibit

Published January 19, 2005

During a whirlwind weekend in which the Museum of Fine Arts opened its 40th anniversary exhibition, patrons set an opening day attendance record on Sunday, and supporters filled the grand ballroom of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort on Saturday night for a sold-out gala to celebrate "Monet's London: Artists' Reflections on the Thames 1859-1914."

Museum officials, fatigued but exuberant about initial public response, said Sunday night that 1,300 people saw the exhibition, 200 more than went to the first day of last year's blockbuster Dale Chihuly showing.

The dozen Monet paintings, including Houses of Parliament, Effect of Fog, 1903, from the museum's permanent collection, are the core of "Monet's London,'' which also features more than 100 paintings and works by other artists who focused on the bustling British capital.

Saturday night, guests traveled between the hotel and the museum to see the exhibition and attend a champagne reception, then returned to the Vinoy for dinner and dancing.

By all accounts, it was an elegant party for more than 400 museum stalwarts, business and civic leaders who paid $200 and up per ticket.

Floral centerpieces used four colors of hydrangea, blooming quince and birch branches in an interpretation of the artist's muted pastels, and a fog machine misted the room as guests were seated for dinner.

Joann Barger chaired the Stuart Society's gala committee, which included president Mary Shuh, Susan Anderson, Carolyn Bond, Debbie Baxter, Christine Conway, Barbara DeMaire, Ann Foster, Tom Gessler, Patty Ann Hamblen, Dana Hansel, Chris Hilton, Priscilla Hobby, Maggi McQueen, Carole Merritt, Greta Myers, Mary Perry, Terry Ray, Fran Risser, Barbara Sansone, Jane Sayler, Candy Scherer, Maritza Smith, Julia Sorbo, Michele Vogel and Cindy Weatherby.

Jean-David Levitte, the French ambassador to the United States, made his first trip to the bay area, meeting with French nationals, University of South Florida officials and military liaisons at U.S. Central Command in Tampa on Friday. The next day he went to the Florida Holocaust and Salvador Dali museums before attending the black-tie Monet gala.

The French consul general from Miami, Christophe Bouchard, and his wife, Nathalie, also were in town for the weekend's festivities.

During a Friday night party hosted by Alain and Elisabeth Cerf, the ambassador spoke of the fast-growing French community in Florida and vowed to make annual visits to the bay area.

Regarding strained relations between France and the United States with regard to Iraq, Levitte acknowledged that his nation "thought that this war was not necessary. . . . What is important today is that we work together to make Iraq a success story."

Alain Cerf heads Polypack, an automatic packaging machine manufacturing company; he also possesses an extensive and unusual collection of vintage vehicles and plans to open the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum in March.

Jennifer Hardin, the Museum of Fine Arts' chief curator; John Schloder, its director; and Carol Upham, president of the board of trustees, led previews of the show Friday and managed still to be in good spirits that evening.

Hardin and her husband, French-born Emmanuel Roux, entertained at a small gathering in their home, where a special guest was John House, a professor at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. His Visions of the Thames is a part of the "Monet's London" catalog and describes the scale of the river and the nearly unimaginable levels of its pollution in the mid 19th century.

It would have been a shame to have accomplished that scholarly work and not to have been able to see the exhibition, he said during a Sunday evening reception.

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Without question, "Monet's London'' is a coup for the community, but its premiere gala had competition Saturday night from Bayfront on Vine 2005, a fundraiser for the Bayfront Health Foundation that attracted roughly 700 people.

The two events have taken place on the same night for several years now, with a considerable number of donors contributing to - and dashing between - both.

Michael's on East from Sarasota catered the vintner partner reception; the $150 tickets allowed patrons an extra hour to mingle with winemakers.

A multitude of bay area restaurants and wine distributors were stationed throughout the first and second floors of the Bayfront Medical Plaza in St. Petersburg; if you didn't want wine, there was a martini bar and bottled water.

Premier vintner partners paid $300 to attend one of six Friday night events plus the Saturday tasting.

Hosts for the special wine-pairing dinners were Dr. an d Mrs. Jack Pyhel, Tierra Verde; Dr. and Mrs. Askshay Desai, Mr. and Mrs. Phillip Powell and Diane Keane, St. Petersburg; and the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club. Jeff Hearn's committee included Vincent Batiato, Dr. Susan Beaven, Emily Benham, Jennifer Bourgeois, Monica Bowersox, Susan Clarke, Phil Dickhaus, Phyllis Eig, Allison Grotheer, Bob Hilton, Chip Jones, Monica Mason, Deborah Menendez, Mike Moorefield, Susan Pilon, Melanie Powell, Brenda Shaffer, Clark Smith, Diana Whittle an d Risa Young.

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Cleo Fields, the youngest person ever elected to the Louisiana state Senate, captivated his audience at the 19th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership & Awards Breakfast on Monday.

He was 24 at the time and undoubtedly was the only state senator who was still living with his mother, he said, drawing laughter from the audience of nearly 1,000 at the Coliseum.

Special recognition went to Jim Simmons, recently retired president and chief executive of the Pinellas County Urban league.

Mary Clowers was chairwoman for the breakfast, which is sponsored each year by the National Council of Negro Women St. Petersburg Metropolitan Section; co-chairs were Alvina Moore and Thomas Whitlock.

Russ Sloan was honorary chairman; breakfast committee members were Barbara D. Bolden, Lonnie Donaldson, Signora Farris, Rhonda Jackson, Valerie Haynes, Adelle V. Jemison, Sharon Melville and Allene Gammage-Ahmed.

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Florida Orchestra guilds in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa alternate years hosting the annual Hands Across the Bay event. Friday's luncheon took place in the Sunset Ballroom of the Renaissance Vinoy Golf Club, where the group heard a performance by 15-year-old pianist Andrew Lapp.

The Sarasota Christian School ninth-grader also plays violin, has placed in several state musical competitions and has been a soloist with the Sarasota Pops.



ALL FOGGED UP: Museum of Fine Arts Contemporaries young professionals group turns museum's Marly Room into an English-inspired tavern, featuring viewing of "Monet's London," food by Moon Under Water, music by Brit-pop band the Shaguars. 6-7:30 p.m. VIP ART-istocrat tickets, $45; 7-10 p.m. Pub Crawlers tickets, $25. Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. 896-2667, ext. 198. After party at Moon Under Water, 332 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Jan. 27

MUSICAL CHAIRS DINNER: Salvador Dali Museum Zodiac group event features four-course dinner, rotating seating, surreal parlor games. 7-10 p.m. Cafe Alma, 260 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. $40 Zodiac members, $50 nonmembers. Reservations: 823-3767, ext. 3024.

Mary Jane Park can be reached at 727 893-8267; fax (727) 893-8675; e-mail park@sptimes.com P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.