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The Barnes Foundation
Originally in Merion, PA, just outside Philadelphia;
re-located to downtown Philadelphia in May 2012 [info added on November 6, 2015]

Biography of Albert Barnes, the history of his foundation and an exclusive interview with Kimberly Camp, Executive Director & CEO of The Barnes.

Article added in January 2001

The biography of Albert Barnes and the history of his foundation
Albert Barnes was born in Kensington in 1872, a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood. As a boy, he attended camp revival meetings with his mother who was a devout Methodist. It was at those religious retreats that Barnes developed an appreciation for African American culture, spiritual revivals and creative expression. In 1892, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. He pursued a career in clinical medicine and physiology. He attended the University of Berlin and, in the late 1890's, was employed as an advertising and marketing representative for a pharmaceutical company. There he befriended a German scientist named Herman Hille. The two developed Argyrol, a new silver-based compound used to fight infections and established Barnes and Hille, a pharmaceutical company, in 1902. Their antiseptic product, Argyrol, formed the basis of Barnes' fortune, who, in 1907, bought out his partner and by 1908 had established manufacturing and marketing facilities in Philadelphia, London and Sydney. Barnes mounted the first successful marketing effort to sell medical supplies directly to physicians and hospitals. In 1902, Barnes married Laura Leggett from Brooklyn, New York; the couple had no children.
The success of this endeavor created a sizable fortune, enabling Barnes to further his many other interests and he went to work at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. In 1912, his interest in French modern art began. His high school classmate and noted American painter, William Glackens, returned from Paris with 20 paintings he had purchased for Barnes, including van Gogh's Postman, Picasso's Woman with a Cigarette as well as works by Renoir and Cézanne. The same year, Barnes made his first "buying trip" to Paris where he met the art-dealers Durand-Ruel and Ambroise Vollard. In 1915, Barnes published his first article, "How to Judge a Painting", in Arts and Decoration.

Barnes extensive studies in psychology, philosophy and art led him to form his own theories about art and education. He began to exercise a unique combination of his concepts and his compassion for the working man with his burgeoning interest in the arts. He initiated educational discussion groups among his employees. He hung his newly acquired paintings in his factory to be studied and discussed by his workers. This attracted people from outside the company, sessions and seminars were held. The discussions mainly focused on the systematic study of art. Barnes' distaste for inherited privilege and his respect for the common man fed the fires of his interest in industrial relations, self-improvement and equal rights for African Americans. His desire to provide nondiscriminatory access to art and education led to the creation of The Barnes Foundation in 1922.
In December 1922, The Barnes Foundation was chartered as a nonprofit educational institution by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Established and initially endowed by Dr. Albert Coombs Barnes, the Foundation's mission, as stated by its By-Laws is to "promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts" as well as the maintenance of an arboretum. To date, the Foundation carries on Barnes' belief that human creative genius is not bound by race, ethnic origin or nationality.

Barnes transferred 710 paintings from his personal collection and an endowment of $6 million to the Foundation. In 1923, The Barnes Foundation exhibited 75 paintings, including works by Soutine, Modigliani, Kisling, Perdriat, Lagut, Lipchitz, Picasso, and Matisse's Joy of Life, at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1923-24, a 24-room gallery, a 12-room residence and service building were constructed, designed in the French Renaissance style by architect Paul Cret, the architect of the Rodin Museum. Barnes commissioned Jacques Lipchitz to carve seven bas-relief sculptures for the exterior gallery and residence and the Enfield Pottery Works to create the gallery vestibule ceramic tile work. In 1924, together with his wife, Barnes began to develop the Arboretum and its gardens, which once belonged to Captain Joseph Lapsley Wilson. In 1925, John Dewey,
who served as The Foundation's first education director and remained Barnes' lifelong friend, made the Gallery dedication speech. The same year, Cézanne's Card Players and Girl was purchased and Barnes published his first book, The Art in Painting, which is still used today as the basis for the Foundation's art education courses.
In 1926, the contact with Lincoln University, the nation's first African-American university, was established, regarding The Foundation's educational program. Barnes appointed the Paris art-dealer, Paul Guillaume, as Foreign Secretary for the Foundation. Barnes was named Chevalier de l'Ordre National de la Legion d'honneur by the French Government. In 1929, Barnes sold his pharmaceutical company. In 1931, he commissioned Matisse to paint a mural, Le Dance, for three lunettes in the main gallery. In 1932, he purchased Cézanne's Nudes in Landscape. In 1936, Barnes was named Officier de l'Ordre National de La Legion d'honneur by the French Government.
In 1940, Mrs. Barnes established
the Arboretum School to provide students of horticulture, botany and landscape architecture the opportunity to work under professional guidance. Ker-Feal, a house in Chester County, with gardens developed by Mrs. Barnes, was purchased. Ker-Feal is Breton Gaelic for "Fidel's house" in honor of Dr. Barnes' dog, Fidel. The Ker-Feal was enlarged by two wings and eight rooms to display Barnes' colonial American decorative arts and furniture collection. In 1950, amended bylaws enabled the Lincoln University Board of Trustees to nominate four of the five trustees of The Barnes Foundation, upon the demise of all original trustees. In 1951, Alfred Barnes received a Honorary Doctorate in Science from Lincoln University. The same year, he died in an automobile accident at the age 78.
The Barnes Foundation houses an extraordinary number of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces, including 181 works by Renoir, 69 by Cézanne, 60 by Matisse and others by Picasso, Modigliani, Monet, Manet, Degas and others. The collection of more than 2,000 pieces is valued in excess of $6 billion.

Interview with Kimberly Camp, Executive Director and CEO of The Barnes Foundation
Cosmopolis (Louis Gerber): What was the effect of the world tour of the 81 works of The Barnes Foundation in the mid 1990s which attracted millions of visitors?
Kimberly Camp: The world tour made our outstanding collections better known to a wider public. However, battles with Lower Merion Township have resulted in restrictions on visitation to only 1200 per week, by advance reservation only. Further, they do not permit us to have tour buses bring visitors to the Foundation. The funds raised from the tour were $17 million. $12 million were used to renovate the gallery, $5 million were restricted for facility use for the gallery only by Montgomery County Orphans' Court. We have just begun a development effort since my arrival as The Foundation's first Executive Director and CEO. It was a pivotal time because the operating costs, legal battles and poor management of the past 50 years resulted in the operating endowment being depleted - we are broke!

Just recently we received $500,000 from the Getty Trust and $500,000 for a collections assessment from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Later this winter, we will be introducing a new membership program for individuals and organizations to also help us out.
What are the main problems The Barnes has to face? Funding? Maintaining the building? Paying the insurance? Attracting the public? Conservation of the art works?
The biggest issue now is developing a fund raising campaign to raise $15 million over the next five years for operations. Further, it's important to note that the collection has not bee inventoried since Barnes' death in 1951.
The Barnes is NOT a collection - it is a school for the advancement of education and the appreciation of fine art and horticulture. Its collections include horticulture, decorative arts, paintings, sculptures and an archive with 400,000 documents. The tour only contained 81 works - hardly a representation of the collection.
When have you put up your website? Recently? I discovered it not so long ago. Could you attract new people?
Our website was developed and is hosted by West Chester University. Our issue is not attracting people, as we are most often sold out at the restrictive numbers placed on us by the township.
The foundation HAS NO MONEY. The collection and the foundation are not separate entities. We receive no state or federal subsidies. We are relying on our new development efforts, our annual appeal and grants from philanthropic organizations. Our earned income is limited because we are limited to 1200 visitors per week by the township and $5 per person by orphans court. These are not restrictions placed on us by Barnes, but by government officials.

You fear you might have to close the Barnes within a year. How much money have you been able to raise so far?
We have just received funds to begin a collections assessment from the Pew Trusts. Their funds will begin the effort, but we still need to raise $2.5 million to complete the assessment of our 450,000 objects and documents.
How do you live up to Barnes mission of promoting "the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts"? What are your activities?
We have a three year program in horticulture and a two year program in art appreciation with a one year optional seminar, using methods established by Barnes and John Dewey, our first director of education. Classes are held on the grounds and the gallery. For information about the classes, log on to our web site.
The Barnes Foundation's second mission is to promote horticulture. What do you offer and plan for the future in this field besides building a new greenhouse?
We have a 12 acre arboretum with 200 varieties of lilacs, 300 of roses and 1500 woodland species. We also have a 9,000 piece herbarium. The arboretum was established in 1887 and contains several state champion trees and a teahouse with a spring fed pond. These activities continue, as they have since 1922, when the foundation was established.

Order books about The Barnes Foundation from

Giorgio de Chirico: Dr. Albert C. Barnes. Photo © The Barnes Foundation. Order books about The Barnes Foundation from

Masterworks: The Barnes Foundation. Hardcover, 2012, 374 pages. Order the book from and

The Gallery's main entrance, with its juxtaposition of Doric columns and African motifs, reflects Barnes' aesthetic vision. Photo © The Barnes Foundation.

A wall in the Gallery. Photo © The Barnes Foundation.

View of a room of the Gallery. Photo © The Barnes Foundation.

A view of the gardens. Photo © The Barnes Foundation.

Added on September 25, 2004: 
The Barnes has not yet overcome its financial problems. The New York Times reports in a substantial article today that the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Lenfest Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation, all three based in the Philadelphia-area, "have promised the Barnes $150 million if it relocates to Philadelphia." The move is supported by both Governor Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania and Attorney General Jerry Pappert. However, it would deviate from the written instructions left by Albert C. Barnes, which state that the artworks must "remain in exactly the places they are", "never to be sold or lent." According to The New York Times, "To create an endowment, the students favor selling off Ker-Feal, Barnes' 138-acre Chester County estate, and at least some of the more than 4,500 works collected by Dr. Barnes but not displayed in the gallery. Such a sale could raise as much as $42.8 million, including $10.3 million from Ker-Feal alone, Mr. Kline said this week." The newspaper reports that, according to the foundation, "the total would be much lower: about $24.7 million, with only $5.1 million for the estate. Under the relocation proposal, the Barnes arboretum, horticulture classes and a future research center would remain in Merion, but the Barnes would transfer its art collection to a new building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Decorative art objects would be displayed at Ker-Feal."

Order books about The Barnes Foundation from

Deutsch Politik Geschichte Kunst Film Musik Lebensart Reisen
English Politics History Art Film Music Lifestyle Travel
Français Politique Histoire Arts Film Musique Artdevivre Voyages

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© Copyright  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.