One Man’s Priceless Treasure Trove
Few miss Philadelphia’s Museum of Art – with 300,000 artworks it is America’s third largest and consistently ranked as one of the finest – but it’s hard to understand why the word isn’t out about the Barnes Foundation’s collection, which is one of the world’s premier private art collections, with over 6,000 pieces valued in excess of $6 billion filling some 23 galleries.
The Foundation’s center-piece is its collection of French Modern and post-impressionist paintings, with 181 works by Renoir alone, 69 by Cézanne, 60 by Matisse, and 44 by Picasso. You’ll find many other major European artists represented here as well, including van Gogh, Degas, Corot, Seurat, Monet, Manet, Goya, and El Greco.
African art and quirky items such as rustic door hinges and other hardware are arranged cheek by jowl with the masters to emphasize shared form or design. Limited access is the result of local township restrictions which means that the galleries are never crowded (though it also means you should book weeks in advance during busy periods). The gallery’s beautiful 12-acre arboretum is one of the city’s best-kept secrets.
The foundation is named for Dr. Albert Barnes, who was born poor and educated in Philadelphia’s public schools, but went on to become a patent-medicine millionaire by the age of forty and a brilliant if idiosyncratic collector by the time of his death in 1951, at age seventy-nine.
Dr. Barnes’s spirit is still palpable in his limestone French-inspired mansion, where his famously quirky collection remains in its original arrangement, as provided in his will.