Barnes Foundation

Barnes Foundation, museum and arborteum in Merion and Philadelphia, Pa. Founded in 1922, it houses the impressive art collection amassed by Albert Coombs Barnes, 1872–1951, a wealthy Philadelphia physician, patent-medicine inventor, and pharmaceutical manufacturer. Introduced to art by a schoolmate, the painter William Glackens, Barnes acquired thousands of works of art and objects. The collection is particularly rich in impressionist and postimpressionist paintings and in European and American moderns, with Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso especially well represented. Also included in the collection are Old Master paintings and drawings, African sculpture, American folk art, antiquities, Native American artifacts, antique furniture, and metal objects. In addition to its collections, the foundation maintains libraries and extensive archives.

Barnes, who scorned traditional museum practice, displayed his eclectic collection in his home in Merion, Pa., outside Philadelphia, in a highly idiosyncratic fashion, envisioning it and the courses offered by the foundation as means of providing art education to the masses. He wrote several books on art and carried on running feuds with various critics and museums. Ten years after his death the collection opened to the public on a regular basis. Barnes left control of his foundation to Lincoln Univ., in SE Pennsylvania, with the stipulation that the collection not be moved or altered.

During the 1990s extreme tensions developed between the foundation's president and the university. In 2003, in a move to prevent foundation bankruptcy, Lincoln's board voted to relocate the art collection to downtown Philadelphia, and a court decision in 2004 permitted the move. In 2006 art historian Derek A. Gillman was appointed director of the foundation, and in 2007 the American architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien were selected to design the collection's new home, where, by court order, the new galleries replicate those in the Merion building. The Philadephia facility opened in 2012; the art library also is located there. The foundation's archives and arboretum and horticultural library and programs remain in Merion.

See Great French Paintings from the Barnes Foundation (1993); H. Greenfield, The Devil and Dr. Barnes: Portrait of an American Art Collector (1987); J. Anderson, Art Held Hostage: The Battle over the Barnes Collection (2003); M. A. Meyers, Art, Education, and African-American Culture: Albert Barnes and the Science of Philanthropy (2003); J. F. Dolkart et al., The Barnes Foundation: Masterworks (2012); T. Williams et al., The Architecture of the Barnes Foundation (2012).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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