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This article by Nicole Plett was published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 10, 1998. All rights reserved.

In the Galleries

The Barnes Foundation, the world’s largest private

collection of French Modern and Post Impressionist painting, founded

in 1922 by the patent medicine giant Albert C. Barnes, is a national

and regional treasure. It’s also never long from the news.

Barnes amassed and installed his dazzling collection to "promote

the advancement of education and appreciation of the fine arts"

according to his own, home-grown art theories. During his lifetime,

access to the works was limited to students of his training program.

But since the eccentric pharmacist’s death in 1951, the collection

has been buffeted through the courts as financial problems,


and renovation, and even zoning issues have demanded attention.

A new visitor reservation system for the Barnes Foundation has just

been implemented, and reservations are now required for all visits.

The purpose is to save visitors the aggravation of waiting on line

or failing to gain admission at all on the day of their arrival.


hours remain limited to Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday afternoons.

Although the names of its artists are familiar around the globe, Dr.

Barnes’ museum looks like no other. Its holdings are awesome: 180

works by Renoir; 69 by Cezanne; and 60 by Matisse — including

his revolutionary "Joy of Life" and the massive mural,


Dance." Also well represented are Picasso, Seurat, Rousseau,


Soutine, Monet, Manet, and Degas. But though the artists’ names are

known, the installation is entirely unorthodox, designed to provoke

illuminating visual connections between non-Western art, such as


miniatures or European wrought iron, and paintings by the French


Barnes bequeathed his foundation to a board of trustees nominated

by Lincoln University, a historically black college in Oxford,


While the conditions of Barnes’ will included proscriptions against

wall labels and color reproductions of the collection, it failed to

provide for its financial stability. Thus the will was amended in

the courts to raise revenues sufficient to protect the art treasures.

Three years ago permission was granted to pack up 80 masterworks from

the Barnes Collection for an unprecedented international tour enjoyed

by 5 million, from Philadelphia to Paris to Tokyo. At the Philadelphia

Museum of Art alone (which is only a 20-minute drive from the Barnes),

500,000 people packed in to see the show in 1995. Yet having seen

works from the collection, is still not to have seen the collection

in its now-native habitat.

Opened to the public for the first time by court order

in 1961, access was expanded in 1967 to two and a half days a week.

(In 1991 the Barnes asked the court to allow the foundation to be

open six days a week; the request was denied.) Yet ever since its

increased accessibility, neighbors in Merion, a tony Philadelphia

suburb, have protested the transformation of Dr. Barnes’ sleepy art

school into what they call a "Getty-type commercial museum."

With funds generated by the blockbuster tour, the Barnes reopened

in November, 1995, after a three-year, $12 million renovation that

restored the 1925 building and its 23 galleries to an exact replica

of Dr. Barnes’ original premises, with matched stonework, burlap wall

coverings, and his unique installation. Limited though its public

hours may be, it’s an art lovers’ destination that is not to be


The Barnes Foundation, 300 North Latches Lane, Merion,

Pennsylvania, 610-667-0290. For reservations call 610-664-7917 for

individuals. Groups of 10 or more must call 610-664-5191 at least

30 days in advance. Gallery is open Friday and Saturday, 9:30 a.m.

to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, 12:30 to 5 p.m. Admission $5.

Directions: To I-95 South to Exit 17, Central Philadelphia,

I-676 West. Follow I-676 West about 2 miles to Route 76 West, the

Schuylkill Expressway. Take 76 West to Exit 33, City Line Avenue/Route

1 South. Proceed south on City Avenue about 2 miles to Merion Road.

Turn right on Merion Road for about 2/10 mile to North Latch’s Lane.

Turn right on North Latch’s and go 6/10 mile to the Barnes Foundation

on the right. Street parking is available.

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