A Day at the Barnes

A couple weekends back, my mom came to visit Philly and we both went to see The Barnes Foundation for the first time.

For those who don’t know, Albert Coombs Barnes was a native Philadelphian who made his fortune as a chemist who helped develop Argyrol. I’ll leave it to you and wikipedia to find out what that did. He luckily got out of the pharmaceutical world right “before the 1929 stock market crash and the discovery of antibiotics, which replaced Argyrol in use.”

He used his wealth from then on to collect and curate a selection of works that later became his Foundation. “Meanwhile, Barnes made his first art acquisitions and began to develop theories—drawn from the ideas of William James, George Santayana, and John Dewey—about how people looked at and learned from art. In 1922, he established the Barnes Foundation for the purpose of “promot[ing] the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts.” Both his art collection and his educational theories grew and changed throughout the course of his life.”

The collection is extensive and if you are a Renoir fan, you really can’t miss it. I was more interested in his Van Goghs, Cezannes, and Seurats. The way they lay the rooms out in the Foundation is duplicated from the way Barnes had set the collection himself. My mom pointed out that his obsession with symmetry was indicative of his being a chemist. I agreed.

Needless to say I highly recommend this collection to art students, and anyone who enjoys a great collection of works. It’s extremely accessible now in the city of Philadelphia.

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