We all know the very rich are different from you and me, but if you want a delicious taste of the moneyed life, take a look at the National Gallery's exhibition of the paintings that the John Hay Whitneys chose to live with. The late Jock Whitney let the public see part of the collection only once, when he lent it to London's Tate Gallery after his term as ambassador to the Court of St. James's. His widow, Betsey Cushing Whitney, couldn't bear to part even temporarily with the couple's favorites, still in the living room, but we can make do quite happily with six dozen of the others that have long graced their halls and walls. "The Whitneys never have referred to, and I'm sure never thought of, these pictures as a collection," says art historian John Rewald, who for 35 years has advised them (but early on learned he couldn't impose his taste on them). "They're simply the pictures they liked and wanted the family to live with." Now just anybody can go to the East Building and live with them a little while. Oh, my, yes. Impressionists and post- Impressionists (mostly French, with some Americans), some "wild beasts" of the fauve movement and others hard to define but easy to love. After dithering endlessly over how best to display the works, which Rewald said were "elbow to elbow" chez Whitney, the gallery decided to hang them in a fairly straightforward chronological sequence. It was clearly the proper choice. The works resonate with each other in wonderful and unexpected ways, such as the pairing of Monet's "Boats on the Beach, Etretat" (1885) with "Apple Trees in Blossom, Gray Weather at Eragny" (1897) by Pissarro. The place chosen is also perfect: You enter over the fourth-floor bridge, very like crossing above the moat of a castle, and are immediately arrested by Van Gogh's September 1889 self-portrait, deservedly hanging first and alone. From there on it's a dream world of several splendid rooms on two levels, connected by a circular stair. I wonder if God lives like that. THE JOHN HAY WHITNEY COLLECTION -- Through October 2 in the East Building, National Gallery of Art. Open 10 to 5, Monday through Saturday (10 to 9 after June 12) and noon to 9 on Sunday.