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My Philadelphia Visit to the Barnes Foundation

One of the highlights of my stay in NY was my quick visit to Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation. (It was only an hour train ride out of Manhattan’s express line and a quick 25 minute taxi ride to the Foundation).   I had recently watched the documentary—The Art of the Steal—which I highly recommend to art lovers.  Without giving too much of the plot away, Barnes Foundation’s spectacular art collection will be moved to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in a year.  I felt that it was my last chance to this world renown collection the way Albert Barnes had wanted his viewers to see it—in his home in the middle of a suburb, with modern masterpieces all stacked up on the walls of the various rooms.

It is nothing short of unbelievable! The Barnes Foundation houses one of the finest collections of French Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early Modern paintings in the WORLD, including an extraordinary number of masterpieces by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (181), Paul Cézanne (69), and Henri Matisse (59). The collection also includes important works by Pablo Picasso (46), Chaim Soutine (21), Henri Rousseau (18), Amedeo Modigliani (16), Edgar Degas (11), Vincent van Gogh (7), Georges Seurat (6), Edouard Manet (4), and Claude Monet (4).  You can just imagine my overwhelming reaction to seeing the most beautiful works of art in one room—even on one wall! And the mastermind of this collection was one man’s exemplary vision—Albert Barnes.

What is so fascinating about the arrangement of the “wall ensembles” is that it is in keeping with Barnes’ idea of illustrating the visual, spatial, color traditions of various artists and times on one wall.  The paintings don’t have titles or any writings below them since Barnes felt that it would distract the viewer from seeing the art directly.  The effect is the viewers directly perceiving the shapes and forms without curatorial analysis.

Barnes was a true genius and collector. At a time when African Art was deemed as primitive and not so attractive, he collected vigorously and has arranged the sculptures in conjunction with Picasso’s and Modigliani’s works to show the apparent similarities in line and form.  It was hard to pull myself away and leave this exhibit for my afternoon appointment in NY, but for all of you who visit Philadelphia, NY, or Washington, this is a must see destination.