Monday, July 23, 2012

The Barnes Foundation

To celebrate Paul's birthday, Jon invited him, Sister Rose Christine and me to visit the Barnes Foundation in downtown Philadelphia. The art collection of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, which was formerly housed in the Barnes residence in suburban Merion, was moved to its new location on the Ben Franklin Parkway this past May.

Dr. Barnes amassed one of the world's most important collections of post-impressionist and early modern paintings, with concentrations of works by Paul C├ęzanne, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Barnes also bought major works by Vincent van Gogh, Amedeo Modigliani, Henri Rousseau and Chaim Soutine, as well as old master paintings, African sculpture, Pennsylvania German furniture, Native American ceramics, jewelry, and textiles, American paintings, antiquities from the Mediterranean region and Asia, and wrought iron objects from Europe and the United States.

Barnes purchased the Merion property, the original site of the Barnes Foundation, in 1922 and commissioned Paul Philippe Cret to design a gallery. Barnes's unusual ideas about education shaped the way his collection is presented. To show the universality of the creative impulse and the connection between modern art and the art of the past, he arranged his paintings, metalwork, sculpture and decorative arts in "ensembles" that brought together different periods, cultures, styles and genres. As Barnes added to the collection, he rearranged the ensembles. The ensembles seen in the gallery today show his collection the way it was arranged when he died in 1951.

The decision to move the Barnes Collection from Merion to Center City Philadelphia was controversial. Ada Louise Huxtable's review in The Wall Street Journal explains the history and gives her positive take on the new venue. We were fortunate to have seen the collection a few years ago in Merion. We were also impressed with the stunning new building, designed by the architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, which replicates the scale, proportion and configuration of the original galleries in Merion. So if you're up for a serious case of Stendhal syndrome but can't make it to Florence this summer, take the ride down to see the overwhelming collection of Dr. Barnes in its new home.

As part of the PBS Arts Summer Festival, "The Barnes Collection" will re-air on Friday, August 3, at 9 pm on most PBS stations. Here's the preview.