Barnes Foundation Moves Art to Philadelphia
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"People don't grasp the magnitude of this collection," Joseph Rishel, the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Gisela and Dennis Alter senior curator of European Painting before 1900, and senior curator of the John G. Johnson Collection and the Rodin Museum, says of the Barnes Foundation. "There is an astonishing richness of French painting. The Barnes has more works of art from Cézanne, Renoir, and Matisse than anywhere else in the world. And not just in terms of quantity but true masterpieces."
From 1910 until his death in 1951, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, a pharmaceutical magnate, amassed one of the most important private art collections in the world, particularly for its holding of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early modern art, including 181 works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 69 by Paul Cézanne, 59 by Henri Matisse, and 46 by Pablo Picasso. Barnes would come to own masterpieces such as The Joy of Life and the mural Dance I by Matisse; The Models by Georges Seurat; the largest and most complex of Cézanne's The Card Players paintings; Amedeo Modigliani's Reclining Nude from the Back; and works by many other masters, including Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, Giorgio de Chirico, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, Paul Gauguin, El Greco, Francisco Goya, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Chaim Soutine, and Charles Demuth. But the Barnes collection also comprises antiquities and decorative arts of no less importance, including Native American jewelry, textiles, and ceramics; Asian art; African sculpture; a large collection of wrought iron; and European and American furniture—in total, approximately 800 paintings, 1,000 pieces of metal work, and 1,000 decorative and other objects. "Barnes was interested in the continuity of artist tradition over the centuries and across the world," says Judith Dolkart, chief curator of the Barnes collection, "He was also really interested in this universal impulse to create." In 1922, Barnes built a home for his collection, a Paul Philippe Cret-designed residence in Merion surrounded by a 12-acre arboretum of rare trees and woody plants from around the world, where his cherished collection would spend the next 90 years.
On May 19 the Barnes Foundation officially reopens in its new home, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The entirety of the unique collection—one of the most famous (and infamous) in the art world—will move into a lightfilled permanent exhibition housed in a serene, two-tone, limestone-clad building nestled among the city's finest art institutions.
There have been critics of the relocation—those who argue that Barnes founded it for the explicit purpose of education, others who say the new location is unabashed commercial exploitation—but the legal ambiguities surrounding his wishes and the once-uncertain future of the foundation allowed the city to re-establish it in this more central location. Designed by architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, with lighting by Paul Marantz and a 4.5-acre garden created by Laurie Olin, the relaunched foundation promises that this new 93,000-square-foot space will quadruple visitor capacity (formerly only 65,000 per year). The educational facilities have been developed even further: In addition to the permanent exhibition space, the new building houses a 5,000-square-foot special exhibition gallery, two in-gallery classrooms, a 150-seat auditorium, seminar rooms, an art library, facilities for painting conservation and research, and extensive public spaces (including a 50-seat café with a courtyard for outdoor dining). Despite these dramatic changes, the integrity of Barnes's vision is still the driving focus: The museum replicated the 23 original galleries in Merion to the millimeter, with the works hung in the exact same positions.
Photography by andrew kahl; courtesy of the barnes foundation; courtesy of barnes foundation archives