Who can forget their first kiss in a relationship?

I never could, and never wanted to.

I feel nearly that same situation every time I come in contact with a wonderful piece of art.

I had 95 first kisses last year when I first saw the Rau Collection,,: Six Centuries with the European Master. This led to our bringing it to the Tennessee State Museum this fall and it will, sadly, leave the United States forever when the show closes on January 15, 2006.

I shamelessly renewed love affairs with Claude Monet, August Renoir..(others).

I don’t want to seem tawdry, but when one’s visual soul is replenished with magical strokes of genius on canvass, my passion for this greatness overflows..

I had six new first kisses with Monet, ___ with ___ ……and  then I met some new loves for the first time ________________.

My passion for the wonderful art in this show is nearly equal to my desire to share it with as many Tennesseans as possible.  Thousands of you have shared this joy, including many Tennessee school children who not only let us fulfill a desire, but the museum’s mission as well.

We didn’t get to have a “first kiss,” but I have also developed a love affair with Dr. Gustave Rau, who’s story is, in and of itself, almost as interesting as the paintings he personally selected.   (Rau story)

His vision was to enjoy the masterpieces, to share them with the world and then to have them benefit one of his great passions: the children of Africa.

I unashamedly urge anyone who loves art, who appreciates greatness, who respects history, to visit your Tennessee State Museum in these last few weeks we are open.  If we see you there, we promise not to kiss and tell.

Lois Riggins-Ezzell is executive director of the Tennessee State Museum.