Monday, June 24, 2013

THE BARNES FOUNDATION REVISITED, A Philadelphia Treasure (c) By Polly Guerin


The Barnes Fojndation, Ensemble View, Room 10, West Wall
Why is it important to revisit the Barnes collection in Philadelphia? For one thing, it is an opportunity to see a rare and highly individualistic private collection in which wall arrangements, called “ensembles,” juxtapose industrial art and decorative art in equal standing along with fine art. The collection has numerous paintings by Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modernist masters, as well as furniture, ancient artifacts and highly crafted objects from numerous time periods. It’s a feast for the eyes,  the 2,500 items in the collection include works by Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir and major works by Vincent van Gogh, Amedeo Modigliani, Henri Rousseau, and Chaim Soutine.

A REMARKABLE VISIONARY, Albert Coombs Barnes, the founder, amassed one of the world’s most important private holdings. In 1922, he established the Barnes Foundation, an educational institution to promote the appreciation of fine art, and housed his collection in a mansion built for that purpose in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania. He created the Foundation, he said, not for the benefit of art historians, but for students. Along with his collaborator, John Dewey they developed classes, still taught today, guiding students “to see’ paintings, as light, line, color and space. In this location he created numerous restrictions to limit the number of visitors. In a famous case, Barnes refused admission to the writer, James A. Michener, who gained access to the collection by posing as an illiterate steelmaker. At the heart of his collecting was a passion for educating the underprivileged, intending his collection to be viewed by the inquiring public and students. In order to preserve the collection the City of Philadelphia relocated to a site with greater public access for all classes. Its new building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia opened in 2012. The setting of the collection has largely been duplicated in the new building but its design allows more light on the artworks.

BARNES THE COLLECTOR With a fortune he made with his partner Herman Hille in the development of the antiseptic drug Argyrol, used to prevent eye infections and blindness in newborns, Barnes became a wealthy young man. After buying out Hille in 1907 Barnes became a millionaire by the age of 35. Adding to his good fortune, the well-timed sale of his company in 1929, before the stock market crash, fueled his wealth chest and enabled Barnes to pursue other avenues of interest. Barnes began in his 30s to study and collect art. He acquired his first 20 pieces by commissioning his former schoolmate, painter William J. Glackens, to advise and work for him in Paris Glackens returned with 33 paintings and works on paper, including Vincent van Gogh’s The Postman and Pablo Picasso’s Young Woman holding a cigarette. Barnes himself took a seminar with John Dewey at Columbia University and this fortuitous decision resulted in their long friendship and intellectual partnership, and in the development of an ambitious education program.

BARNES MARRIES After earning income from the sale of Argyrol the enterprising young was in a position to think of marriage and married Laura Leggett, from a well-to-do family in Brooklyn, New York. Laura Barnes proved an exceptional partner and in her own right she is recognized for the development of the Arboretum and horticultural program that are integral to the Barnes Foundation. She founded the Arboretum School in 1940, where she taught as instructor. albert Barnes' art collection and his educational theories grew and changed throughout the course of his life. Dr. Barnes was also a prolific writer whose publications include six books about art and education. With the death of Barnes in 1951, Laura succeeded her husband as president of the Foundation. Since her demise in 1966, The Barnes collenction is administered by THE BARNES FOUNDATION. The building is located near the Rodin Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For general information: 215.278.7000, education 215.278.7000.

Ta Ta Darlings!!! Visiting the Barnes Foundation was an awe inspiring experience. Fan mail welcome at Visit Polly’ Blogs on fashion, menremarkablevisionaries and womendeterminedtosucceed. Just go to and click on the links in the left-hand column of the page.

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