The itinerary discovering “my” Philadelphia not to miss unavoidably pass by one among the most original, unusual and charming art collections in the world, the Barnes Foundation.
A tour that alone would be enough to justify a journey to Philadelphia.
Try to imagine walking among the dozen canvas by Modigliani, De Chirico, Picasso, Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Rubens, Tiziano, Paolo Veronese (and many other ones), alternating with a series of art objects coming from different historic periods and continents, apparently arranged random, but actually placed according to the detailed indications of Albert C. Barnes.
That is through the research of lines, colors, spaces and lights.
A one-of-a-kind museum facility for collocation, inspirations and keys to the reading of the artworks.
Strongly wanted in 1922 by the doctor and chemist Albert C. Barnes – become millionaire thanks to the invention of the first antiseptic medicine, the Argyrol – and with a statute extremely strict which until 1995 allowed max 200 visitors a day to enter.
Because like Barnes himself loved to repeat… “only in the peace and in the absolute concentration it’s possible to catch the essence of an artwork.”
“There is no surer way to avoid the world than through art,
and there is no surer way to attach oneself to it than through art”
The story of the Barnes Foundation – like the one of many American art collections – is unbelievable.
It deserves to be told because it is closely connected to the thought and the activities of its creator: the doctor and chemist Albert C. Barnes, fond collector and visionary who made a fortune thanks to the production and marketing of the Argyrol, then over time dedicating himself with more and more commitment (above all economical) to one among his greatest passions, that one for the art.
Art to which he came closed as a self-taught person snubbing – and causing for this reason a lot of resentments in the field – tips and interpretations of the critics of that time, sure that his mission was to understand the work, the essence and the artworks of every single artist and transmit it though lessons and conferences to whom – mainly for economical and social reasons, I mean the poorest classes – could have never enjoyed it by any other way.
Passion for art burst out from 1910.
The first travels to Europe, the sudden love for Impressionism and Picasso, the encounter with the art trader Paul Guillaume in Paris and the discovery of Modigliani, De Chirico and Soutine, the purchase of many among their works and the idea to create a permanent collection in America.
The Barnes Foundation was born in 1922 in a facility created on purpose immediately outside downtown Philadelphia.
The strict rules called for by Barnes forbade the loan of the works to other museums and the reproduction of them in any shape, allowing only 200 (lucky) visitors a day the access.
For decades the Barnes Foundation remained hidden to the great public, even after the death of Barnes himself. Only from 1995 the exposition turned over time in a downright museum become accessible to all.
Today it is located in its whole splendor in downtown Philadelphia, in a modern and innovative facility where inside was faithfully reproduced Merion Station’s original residence.
All the works are placed in the original positions wanted by Barnes and the guided paths help to perceive and understand them according to his personal interpretations and keys to the reading .
The Barnes Foundation is much more than a simple museum.
It’s one among the most complete collections of modern and post-impressionist French paintings in the world, besides a rich section of objects dedicated to the ancient art.
I mean 23 rooms and about 800 works – among them an imprecise number of Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, Seraut and Van Gogh and many other famous contemporary ones – exhibited without any logical or chronological thread.
Visiting it means to set out on an unusual sensorial path into the art and into Albert Barnes’ world, discover the single works related to the other ones, through comparisons and contrasts, impressions and associations, following lights, colors, spaces and lines.
What is the result?
A totally innovative reading of the painting and the objects exhibited and a very personal perception generating different feelings and incitements in every single visitor.
It’s not only the artwork which has a hidden value, but what it generates in people’s mind, who look at it relating to the others.
A new experience, a mental and associative exercise helping to read again art through new instruments and making it maybe more accessible also to the new generations.
The Barnes Foundation is located at 2025, Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, the parkway that from Logan Square takes as far as the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, passing by the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Rodin Museum.
The museum is opened Wednesday-Monday 11am-5pm (closed Tuesdays).
Reckon at least 3 hours for the tour and reckon the possibility to do it with a guide. The guides – available only in English – are extremely prepared (and fond of) and they will help you to discover and understand works and organizations following Barnes’ vision.
Philadelphia not to miss: Barnes Foundation, the entrance
Ticket price: 30$. Temporary expositions are also included.
Reductions for students and people over 65. Free admittance for children under 12