Thursday, October 28, 2010

Art - The Barnes Foundation

Now, I am not an artist. Though I like to think of myself as one, as a writer. I wish I could be a painter, but I don't have the patience. I'd like to think that at some point, I would be considered an artist in at least some of my writings, some day, before I die. But a true artist, or "Artiste" as I like to say, takes a genius amount of talent, effort, skill and something almost (or truly) spiritual in its creations.

If you consider yourself an artist, if you are an American, or not, but especially so, if you are, then you really should know about The Barnes Foundation collection of art, located in Merion, Pennsylvania.

From the home page of The Barnes Foundation:

"The Barnes Foundation houses one of the finest collections of nineteenth and twentieth-century French painting in the world. An extraordinary number of masterpieces by Renoir, Cézanne and Matisse provide a depth of work by these artists unavailable elsewhere. Established as an educational institution the Barnes carries out its mission teaching classes in its galleries and Arboretum. The Barnes welcomes visitors and students throughout the year."

Alfred Barnes was a Doctor who invented a replacement to the Silver nitrate eye drops for newborns they used to put in every baby's eyes to save them from venereal disease. He made a fortune with it. A friend then turned him on to art and the rest, dear friends, is history. And an incredible history it is.

From Dr. Barnes's Last Will and Testament (as distinct from the Barnes Foundation's Indenture of Trust) was limited to:
  • reiterating that the Collection was given to the Foundation prior to his death;
  • bequeathing the real property (i.e., land and buildings) in Merion, as well as Dr. Barnes's country property known as Ker-Feal to the Foundation (with express directions that Ker-Feal be used as a "living museum" in perpetuity by the Foundation); and
  • giving the residue of his estate to his wife Laura.

Dr. Barnes pretty much hated "Society", the rich and the politicians who see art as some commodity. To get a feel for how Dr. Barnes saw things, he had said:

  • "Philadelphia is a depressing intellectual slum."
  • "The main function of the museum has been to serve as a pedestal upon which a clique of socialites pose as patrons of the arts."
  • "The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a house of artistic and intellectual prostitution."

When he first opened his art up to viewing, the professional art critics slammed him into the ground. Almost viciously. After that, if he got a letter saying, "I'm an art critic for a NY newspaper, I'd like to come see the art." He would write back, "No", and have his dog, Fidele, sign it. But if someone wrote saying, "I'm a plumber and I would like to come see the art." He would say, "Yes."

When asked how much the collection is worth, a custodian of the collection couldn't even put a price on it. In looking at art (Cézanne's, Van Gogh, Matisse's) at Sotherby's, this custodian just dismissed most of the pieces as not worthy to be in the Foundation's collection.

Henri Matisse, said that, "The Barnes Foundation is the only sane place to see art in America."

If you ever feel like traveling to see art, go see the Barnes Collection. The number and quality of the pieces, even compared to the Louvre, or the NY Metropolitan Museum of the Arts, or any others, cannot in may ways, compare.

If you want to know more about The Barnes Foundation collection, see The Art of the Steal, a very interesting documentary. See also, Article

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