If you haven’t heard of the Barnes Foundation and you like art, find out about it. If you’re anywhere near Philadelphia, go there.
Albert Barnes was a successful entrepreneur who lived in and near Philadelphia (and went to my High School) from 1842 to 1951. According to Wikipedia, “in his 30s Barnes began to study and collect art. He acquired his first 20 pieces by commissioning his friend, the artist William Glackens, to buy modern work for him in Paris. After selling his business, he devoted himself to the study and collecting of art.”
His collection is now worth about $25 billion and a few months ago they opened a new building in Center City, Philadelphia to show it.
I visited the other day and it’s almost unbelievable. From the first room you walk in, the amount and quality of art, mostly impressionist, but plenty of other art too, astounds you.
How incredible is this collection?
The collection includes 181 paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 69 by Paul Cézanne, 59 by Henri Matisse, 46 by Pablo Picasso, 21 by Chaim Soutine, 18 by Henri Rousseau, 16 by Amedeo Modigliani, 11 by Edgar Degas, 7 by Vincent Van Gogh, and 6 by Georges Seurat. One of Matisse’s works of dancers was created for the main gallery space, where the triptych is above Palladian windows.
In addition, the collection holds works by numerous other European and American masters, including Giorgio de Chirico, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian, Paul Gauguin, El Greco, Francisco Goya, Edouard Manet, Jean Hugo, Claude Monet, Maurice Utrillo, William Glackens, Charles Demuth, and Maurice Prendergast. It also holds a variety of African artworks; ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art; and American and European furniture, decorative arts and metalwork. A notable aspect of the foundation’s art collection is its display of different types of items and works in “wall ensembles”, which intentionally combine works from different time periods, geographic areas, and styles for the purpose of comparison and study.
Although John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie were vastly wealthier than Albert Barnes, today the value of the art assets of the Barnes Foundation are 10 to 20 times greater than either the Carnegie Corporation or the Rockefeller Corporation.
His collection has more Cézannes than in all the museums in Paris. To give a sense of the variety, I also saw an ancient Egyptian piece about 6,000 years old and pieces from China, Africa, the Americas, and elsewhere.
Visit this museum.
Oh, by the way, it’s literally next door to the Rodin Museum, which holds the largest collection of Rodins outside Paris.
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