Saturday, September 10, 2005

Barnes Stormers...

Today , Mrs. Pratt and I saw one of the most unique cultural spots in the Philadelphia area. This would be The Barnes Foundation.

I think in the entire world of Art, there is no story as peculiar as that of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, born in working class Philadelphia in 1872,he became a doctor, made wealthy by co-creating an antiseptic product called Argyrol, then used his fortune to buy art....a lot of art. So much art that in 1922 he opened up his Barnes Foundation to "promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts."

When I say he had a lot of art I mean 181 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 60 Matisses, 46 Picassos, 21 Soutines,18 Rousseaus, as well as a number of works by Monet,Seurat,Degas, and van Gogh.

By the time Barnes died in 1951 he amassed over 9,000 pieces of art , including extensive collections of African art, antique furniture,pottery and textiles.

After some public squabbles with the regular Philadelphia art community, and its snobbery towards him, he refused to let the public see his collection for years. Barnes created art education classes specifically for the "common people" and blue collar workers were always welcome to see his treasures.

Now the really interesting thing about Dr. Barnes was his will- his final revenge on the art community who shunned him decades ago.he stipulated that none of the paintings could be moved, sold, or even loaned. He put his entire collection in the hands of Lincoln University, a predominently black college.

Over the last 20 years though there were problems with the foundation. A financial endowment was slowly depleted, the building was in dire need of repair and modernization. Neighbors in the tony neighborhood sued the Foundation over petty squabbles like parking and hours of admission. Board members sued each other over shady financial dealings. Meanwhile billions of dollars of art was rarely seen by the public.

Eventually, special court orders had to be used for the Foundation to present a travelling exhibit among Anmerican cities for 50 of the paintings. The money raised by the exhibition helped the Foundation for awhile. Finally, an offer to move the collection to a new building in Philadelphia, down the street from the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway has recently been approved.

Although dire financial necessity dictates that the Foundation do this and leave its old building. Dr. Barnes' collection and mission about art education will continue to be enjoyed by even more people in the decades to come.

It's still a little difficult to get into the Foundation to see the collection. Reservations must be made 30-60 days in advance. But the visit was well worth the wait.

Some of the works we saw today included:

Paul Cézanne's The Cardplayers.

The Postman by Vincent van Gogh.

Henri Rousseau's The Rabbit. We bought a small print of this.

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