Londoners Get High On All-Night Monet Mania

LONDON -- Round-the-clock Monet mania gripped London's august Royal Academy over the weekend with one couple even admitting they took illicit ecstasy tablets to enhance their all-night viewing experience.

The three-month exhibition, which closed on Sunday after a marathon 34-hour viewing session, was Britain's most successful with 813,000 art lovers from around the world clamoring for tickets.

The Royal Academy, which managed to climb out from under a pounds 500,000 deficit with the revenue from "Monet in the Twentieth Century," was the first British gallery to stay open all night and it proved a huge success.

One couple, who remained anonymous, decided ecstasy tablets would heighten viewing pleasure with the Father of Impressionism. But they admitted it was hard to focus.

An Israeli photography student, Dana Salinger, found just plain lack of sleep heightened his artistic senses. "My body is shutting down so my eyes are seeing more," he said.

As the sun rose on Sunday morning over Piccadilly in the heart of London, Anne Hayward admitted, "It seemed crazy but it was something to tell your children about."

Curators scoured the world from Toledo, Ohio, to Tokyo for the exhibition of 79 twentieth century paintings done by the French artist in the last 26 years of his life.

The show was marketed like a pop concert with plant-your-own Monet garden seed packs, French frog toys and mouse pads of Impressionists scenes. The best-selling postcard was "The Grand Canal, Venice, 1908."

Art fans could even stay in rooms at the Savoy Hotel where Claude Monet slept - but at least the fog that blanketed the River Thames in those days has now cleared.

The global audience for the show, which was put on at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston first before coming to London, topped 1.3 million.

At the Royal Academy, an average of 8,552 art fans passed through the turnstiles daily. The previous best average was 6,160 people at the Tutankhamen exhibition at the British Museum in 1972.

"We were up to capacity every single hour," a Royal Academy spokeswoman said.