After taking a course on Modern Art with esteemed Vanderbilt Art History professor, Leonard Folgarait, my understanding of Impressionism, Cubism and Avant-guard art was forever changed after realizing just how revolutionary those movements were. During the changing times, artists like Matisse and Renoir contributed to the abstract movement by slowing pushing their paintings towards the limits of abstraction. Society, of course, rejected this disfigured, unrealistic and radical style. Just as radical, though, were those visionaries who were daring enough to buy it.
One special supporter of the movement was a peculiar man named Albert C. Barnes, who dedicated the walls of his home to an astonishing collection of impressionist and early modern artwork. By collecting artists like Cézanne, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani and Seurat (at the time they were painting), Barnes showed a great admiration for the fearlessness of the movement—something rare during the especially fearful times of World War I.
I applaud what the New York Times called Barnes’ “fiercely unconventional ideas about what good art was.” Even more interestingly though, was the way Barnes decided to present his work—he hung pieces in an old-fashioned-looking cluster that spanned high and wide across the walls of his neo-Classical home. His odd arrangement of paintings was organized in order to mimic and harmonize with the qualities of the paintings themselves. As you can see (above), this doesn’t look like your typical art gallery!
Since his stupendous collection turned into an official museum in 1925, visitors have appreciated these unique aspects of Barnes’ collection. However, due to a poor financial situation of the museum’s foundation, a Pennsylvania judge ruled it permissible to bypass the charter on which Barnes had demanded that no painting be moved, lent or sold. Now, as the paintings move to a new building in downtown Philadelphia, the rarity and eloquent strangeness of the Barnes collection will be lost. Critics of the move believe this will destroy the uniqueness of the Barnes collection, and it may be so. But I believe that if Barnes were alive today, with the same radical and forward thinking, I think he too would accept that it is time for change.
To have a look at the original Barnes collection, take a virtual tour of the gallery here.