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Barnes Museum Philadelphia

New Barnes Foundation Museum

New Barnes Museum

(Photo by M. Edlow for GPTMC)

Probably the most impressive private collection of Impressionist and Post-impressionist paintings in the world, The Barnes Foundation has recently gotten a new 100 million dollar home on Philadelphia’s museum row. The value of the collection, depending on which sources you consult, is anywhere from 25 to 50 billion dollars. In the collection there are nearly 60 Renoirs, Paul Klees, a Titian, three Picasso blue period paintings, 23 Soutines, and important paintings from Modigliani, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Bosch. The Dance II by Henri Matisse is a triptych mural 15ft high by 45 ft long and was commissioned by Barnes in 1932. It is the largest Matisse in the world.

new Barnes museum

Credit: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Dr. Barnes, a millionaire who made his fortune in the patent medicine business, was the first, and at the time, the only wealthy American to collect modern art from Europe, especially France, which was a gathering place for artists from across the globe. The local Philadelphia newspapers and critical establishment vilified Barnes for his passion for modern art, which left him embittered and made him structure his will so that his collection would never be broken up. For years you had to call and make an appointment to see the collection in his Merion, PA mansion. It was a pilgrimage that only the most hardcore art lovers either knew about or would undertake.

It is too long and complicated a story to go into here but the final result, contrary to the explicit wishes of Barnes’ will, is that the entire collection was recently moved out of the suburbs and into the beautiful new museum. The charm of the old Barnes Foundation was in the salon style hanging of the paintings, often a dozen masterpieces are clustered together on a single wall. As well as the dozens upon dozens of pieces of antique furniture and examples of Spanish metal work hung just so by Barnes himself.

Barnes foundation documentary

A recent documentary (available on Netflix streaming) called The Art of the Steal details the history of Dr. Barnes and his collection and the story as told by the filmmaker of the documentary as being an act of art vandalism and to the benefit of corporate and foundation sponsors. But the new museum has taken great pains to recreate, albeit in a modern building, a near exact replica of every room in the old mansion. The paintings are hung exactly as Barnes wanted them to be, only now hundreds and thousands will be able to see and enjoy this world-class collection.

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