- Georgio de Chirico’s “Dr. Albert C. Barnes,” painted in 1926. CREDIT: ©2012 The Barnes Foundation
The first time I saw a sampling of masterworks from the Barnes Collection, it took my breath away. The place was the National Gallery of Art. The occasion was a traveling exhibition of 83 carefully selected works to museums in Paris, Tokyo, Munich, Philadelphia, Toronto and Fort Worth, Texas, as well as Washington, D.C., to raise funds for the foundation’s headquarters operations in Merion, Pa.
The second time, nearly 20 years later, I saw the entire collection, hung in galleries just as Dr. Albert C. Barnes had placed them, and it was magnificent. I had the privilege of being part of a small group of journalists invited to tour the original site just after its official closing last June but before the art works were dismantled, catalogued and packed for moving to what was to become the splendid new Barnes Foundation on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.
Undoubtedly the largest private collection of Impressionist, post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings in the world, it contains 181 Renoirs, 67 Cezannes, 59 Matisses and 18 Picassos just for starters. And now, the entire 8,000-piece collection—modern and Old Masters paintings, African sculptures, Mediterranean antiquities, Native American ceramics, American paintings and decorative arts—can be viewed by art lovers nearly every day, rather than during the highly restricted visiting times available in Merion.
It’s ironic that while Dr. Barnes nursed a lifelong grudge against Philadelphia society for having snubbed his taste in art, his art has finally come back to the city in triumph. If only he could see how much fuss art lovers are making over his collections now, I believe he might have a change of heart.