The Museum of Modern Art in New York has brought a collection of masterpieces to London. Cezanne, Picasso, Braque and Matisse are the stars of their exploration of still-life painting in the 20th century

The Hayward Gallery's winter exhibition, which opened on Thursday and runs through to the new year, traces the story of still life painting across the many movements and isms that have dominated art history in the last 100 years. It's an ambitious and, for the most part, well selected show which takes in most of this century's major figures and includes a good number of modern masterpieces.

Their selection starts, chronologically, in 1890 with Cezanne's Still Life with a Ginger Jar and Eggplants (the first of several clues that the exhibition was generated in America) so there's no Van Gogh or Gauguin. Going further back still, there's no Chardin or any of the Spanish still-life painters of the early 17th century - all of whom have a claim to inclusion in a debate about modernity and still life. In their place, though, are plenty of other wonderful things, starting with the origins and development of Cubism at the hands of Picasso and Braque and continuing with two brilliant swirling Matisses from the Hermitage in St Petersburg.

"The goal of the exhibition," according to the catalogue, a beautifully produced, but virtually unreadable publication courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, "is to enhance and enrich [the experience of seeing] by deflecting the viewer's gaze from the common subject depicted in these still lives to the complex formal and semantic systems that they embody".

I've thought about this for a while and I haven't the first idea what it means, but beyond the claptrap the real point of this exhibition is the simple pleasure of looking at great paintings. There are lots of them here, gathered from around the world, and not to be missed on their short stay in London.

'Objects of Desire: The Modern Still Life', Hayward Gallery, South Bank Centre, London SE1 (0171-921 0660) to 4 Jan