bighunter: (Virginian)
[personal profile] bighunter
* This article is an English version of the original Russian essay .

What is unique about this museum, you can ask. There are hundreds of thousands museums around the world, including the big ones, the Louvre in Paris, the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, the Prado in Madrid, museums in London, Vienna, Amsterdam, Dresden and other large cities. They contain the most famous masterpieces of painting and sculpture to be found in the world.

So let's see what kind of pictures our little known museum boasts of. Numbers tell it all, 181 works by Auguste Renoir, 69 paintings by Paul Cezanne, 59 Matisse paintings, 46 works by Pablo Picasso, 21 by Haim Soutine, 18 by Henri Rousseau, 16 by Amedeo Modigliani, 11 by Edgar Degas, 7 by Van Gogh, 6 by Seurah, as well as numerous masterpieces by other painters, including Chirico, Rubens, Titian, Paul Gauguin, El Greco, Francisco Goya, Edouard Manet, Jean Hugo, Claude Monet, Maurice Utrillo and many, many others.

Van Gogh, Portrait of the Postman Joseph Roulin

Resize of Vincent-van-Gogh-Dutch-1853–1890.-The-Postman-Joseph-Étienne-Roulin-1889.jpg

Cezanne, Card Players


Impressive, isn't it? The fund has more pictures of Cezanne than all the Paris museums combined! How on Earth could such a great museum be so little known? The answer lies in the identity of the founder of the fund, the American collector Albert Barnes.

Chirico, Portrait of Albert Barnes


Albert Barnes was born in Philadelphia to working-class parents. His father, a butcher, lost his right arm at the Battle of Cold Harbor during the American Civil War and became a letter carrier after the war. Barnes always felt rejected by the Philadelphia community but thanks to the dedication and the help of his friends he was able to graduate from the prestigious Central High School in Philadelphia and at the age of 20 become a doctor after graduating from the Pennsylvania University School of Medicine. Barnes continued his education studying medicine in Berlin and pharmacology in Heidelberg. In Heidelberg he became acquainted with a German chemist Hermann Hille. Together they created Argirol, a drug that proved to be extremely effective in the treatment of a very widespread disease.

They founded a pharmaceutical company "Barnes and Hille", which turned out to be exceptionally profitable.

Barnes began to take an interest in art at the Central High School where he got acquainted with William Gluckens and John Sloan. Both Gluckens and Sloan later became prominent American artists.

William Gluckens, Family Portrait

William Glackens.jpg

John Sloan, Music in the Plaza

John French Sloan:

From 1912, Barnes began to study and collect art. The first paintings were "The Postman" by Van Gogh and "The Woman with a Cigarette" by Picasso, which were bought by Gluckens and Alfred Morer in Paris, then the impressionist paintings were added. Following the advice of friends and his own taste, he once bought 60 paintings of a little known Chaim Soutine for only $50 per picture. Barnes also bought a number of works by Soutine's former studio partner, an Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani.

Modigliani, Women with Red Hair

Resize of Modigliani-Redheaded-Girl-in-Evening-Dress.jpg

In 1925 the Barnes Foundation opened its doors as an educational institution. The collection was housed in a new estate in Lower Merion, five miles from Philadelphia. The Barnes Foundation was formed as a school with the restricted access, and not as a museum. Access to the collection was strictly limited, only a small part of the collection was open to the public. One had to write a special request to Barnes for permission to see the paintings. There were some famous rejections. The reply to the poet T.S. Eliot was the single word “nuts.” Sometimes Barnes rejection letters were signed by " Fidèle-de-Port-Manech, the name of his favorite dog.

Georges Seurat, Models

Resize of Georges_Seurat_-_Les_Poseuses.jpg

Renoir, Children on the beach in Guernsey

Resize of Pierre_Auguste_Renoir_Enfants_au_bord_de_la_mer_a_Guernsey.jpg

Renoir, A cup of chocolate

Pierre Auguste Renoir - Cup of Chocolate.jpg

Barnes prohibited making color reproductions from most of the paintings, this restriction remained in effect until the late 90's. As a result, a huge number of masterpieces of painting of the beginning of the century were practically excluded from the cultural turnover.

Resize of Dr. Albert Barnes, founder of the Barnes Foundation

Barnes died on July 24, 1951, in an automobile crash. Driving from Ker-Feal to Merion, he failed to stop at a stop sign and was hit broadside by a truck at an intersection on Phoenixville Pike in Malvern. He was killed instantly.

From the very beginning Barnes placed considerable restrictions on the operations of the foundation. None of the items in the collection could be moved, sold or exhibited elsewhere. Perhaps most importantly, he restricted the investment of the foundation’s endowment, restrictions to which the Old Guard scrupulously adhered. During Barnes’ lifetime, the indenture granted that the endowment could be invested in “any good securities.” After his death, however, the corpus could only be invested in federal, state, and municipal bonds. Over time, this restriction severely eroded the endowment. In 1951, the value of the foundation’s endowment was $9 million (or about $75 million in 2010). Originally it was enough to pay for the fund expenses but the endowment started shrinking in the inflationary decades after Barnes’ death, especially in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Arab oil embargo.

For the generation after the death of Barnes and his wife, the control of the Barnes Foundation board remained in the hands of Barnes’ disciples, or the “Old Guard,” as they were known. Leading the Old Guard was Violette de Mazia, a petite Frenchwoman who had been at the foundation since the mid-1920s.

Violette de Mazia

Much about de Mazia, including her origins and arrival in the States, remains a mystery, but this much is certain. She was the spiritual heir, a prime disciple, and (allegedly) a long-time mistress of Barnes. From 1951 until her death in 1988, de Mazia was the driving force at the Barnes Foundation.


De Mazia with Georgia O'Keeffe


In 1961, under the pressure of the public and after numerous legal battles, limited access to the fund's gallery was allowed, but only for two and a half days a week and for no more than 500 people for the same period. Visitors had to register (or rather, try to do it) at least two weeks in advance.

This situation could go on forever but limited access and a ban on publications led the fund to the actual bankruptcy. In a desperate attempt to make ends meet, the fund, in violation of the rules, organized a world tour featuring a part of the collection in Washington, Tokyo, Paris and Toronto but it gave only temporary relief. For years big charities and the City of Philadelphia fought for the control over the Barnes collection. Now the Barnes Foundation was primed for a bailout. A wide partnership of Philadelphia-area foundations led by the Pew Charitable Trusts offered $150 million in private and public funding to support the Barnes on several conditions, one of them was the removal of the Barnes Collection, in its entirety, from its home in Merion to a larger new facility in downtown Philadelphia. It was "an offer one can't refuse". Finally Judge Stanley Ott gave the green light for moving the paintings of the foundation to a new building in the center of Philadelphia. The judge's decision caused numerous protests, because Barnes's will was violated.



A new building in the museum district of Philadelphia was opened to the public in May 2012, paintings of the Barnes Foundation once again became a part of the world culture, although against the will of the eccentric collector.

Resize of Barnes-Museum-Parking-Lot-Side.jpg

Architects and designers of the new building took a great care of Barnes's heritage. Inside the museum building, original rooms were recreated, all the paintings were hung exactly the same way as in the old estate of the collector. Barnes placed the paintings in a very special way. Pictures of the 15th century could coexist with the avant-garde paintings of Matisse, sometimes the pictures merged color, sometimes geometric dimensions. Why paintings are hung this way, and not otherwise, is the favorite theme of museum guides and art historians. Let's walk through these rooms.

The museum hall, the only place where photography was allowed


The pointillist Seurat and the down-to-earth Cezanne were placed on the same wall. This room was the starting point where Albert Barnes introduced his few guests to his collection.




The Hall of Renoir, the beloved artist of Albert Barnes


Renoir reigns throughout the museum and it seems a bit too much (181 paintings!)

Renoir galore at the Barnes Foundation.jpg

As if feeling this, Barnes balances the pink glamor of the late Renoir with the earthy paintings of Cezanne and expressive colors of Matisse.

Cezanne, bathers

bathers-1906-29x23-The Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania, USA.jpg

Renoir, bathers


Matisse, The Joy of Life


The triptych Matisse


Picasso, Cezanne and Modigliani


Old masters corner


Henri Rousseau, Matisse and Renoir in one room, only Albert Barnes knew what they had in common.


Rousseau, An Unpleasant Surprise

This painting is a favorite topic for the art historians:

Using Art to Cultivate Mindfulness – or: A pleasant Surprise with Rousseau´s “Unpleasant Surprise”


Rousseau, Woman walking in an exotic forest

Resize of Woman-Walking-in-an-Exotic-Forest-Henri-Rousseau-French-1844–1910-Woman-Walking-in-an-Exotic-Forest-Femme-se-promenant-dans-un-forêt-exotiq…

Matisse, Music Lesson

Matiss, music lesson.jpg

Matisse, Seated odalisque


Cezanne, Leda and the Swan

Leda and the Swan.jpg

Matisse, Chinese Casket

Henri Matisse - Chinese Caske.jpg

To me, the most important discovery in this museum were the paintings of Cezanne. Previously, their dark, greenish color, rough strokes and constantly repeating subjects (Mount Saint-Victoire, bathers on the shore of the pond and still lives with apples) were not very appealing. Barnes displayed Cezanne's paintings in a very mysterious way, suddenly they came to life and began to "talk." I have no rational explanation for this phenomenon, it just happened.

Still life with apples, with this painting, written in defiance of all academic traditions, Cezanne intended to conquer "All Paris"

The World Is an Apple.jpg

Still-life with Apples.JPG


Resize of Three Bathers (Trois baigneuses)

Cezanne, Five Bathers.jpg

The names of the paintings, if one couldn't guess, are "Three Bathers" and "Five Bathers"

Saying farewell to the museum and Renoir, the favorite artist of Albert Barnes.

Young mother

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, 1841-1919. Young Mother.jpg

Portrait of Joan of Durand-Ruelle

Jeanne Durand-Ruel - Good.jpg


The Spring - Pierre-Auguste Renoir.jpg

Mother walking with children

Resize of Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French Mother Strolling with her Children.jpg

Leaving the Conservatory
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Leaving the Conservatory.jpg

My family

Pierre Auguste Renoir - The Artist's Family.jpg

Woman with сapeline

Pierre-Auguste Renoir French, 1841–1919 Woman with Capeline.jpg

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