The art world was abuzz this week in anticipation of today’s grand opening of the new Barnes Foundation building in downtown Philadelphia. The stunning new $150-million building houses one of the world’s greatest collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings – including 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses and 46 Picassos. Within the excitement of the new building is a fascinating and controversial story.
The collection was compiled by local pharmaceuticals magnate Albert Barnes. When he died in 1951, he left his extensive collection housed in a modest building in Merion, PA, a couple of miles outside of Philadelphia with the stipulation that it never be moved, lent, sold or divided, and used only for educational purposes.
After a series of complicated lawsuits, the court approved the request to move the collection to downtown Philadelphia. The new building is an updated version of the Merion space, and Barnes’ original installations have been replicated with the addition of a library, cafe, gift shop and a space for rotating exhibitions.
Whether or not you know your Manets from your Monets, the Barnes Foundation is worth a visit. Philadelphia locals remain divided about whether the move was just or not, and the new Barnes building is the talk of the town. But there is no uncertainty about the art work – the collection is stunning. The paintings are not labeled, and they are clustered together in large groups, surrounded by unusual pieces of iron work and traditional furniture. I found the lack of information to be liberating once I stopped worrying about which paintings are which and enjoyed them simply for the scenes presented and the colors used.
OTHER PLACES TO SEE ART IN PHILADELPHIA
The opening of the Barnes Foundation officially places Philly into the ranks of one of the best American cities for art. There are a number of other spots nearby which are also worth a visit:
- The Philadelphia Museum of Art houses works spanning 2,000 years, and is home to a lovely sculpture garden. For movie buffs, this is also the site of the famous scene in Rocky, and you can find a sculpture of the boxer in front of the museum.
- The University of Pennsylvania Museum is home to an extensive collection of Egyptian artifacts including a 12-ton granite Sphinx.
- Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) is a stunning historic building with a collection of American art; go for the building and stay for the art.
WHEN YOU GO
This trip was sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation.