Summary of Albert C. Barnes
Having amassed a vast fortune through his pharmaceutical company, Barnes became a philanthropic art collector who built the world famous Barnes Foundation. The Foundation, which houses one of the most impressive collections of modern art in the United States, came with a charter to promote "the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts" for all sections of American society. Barnes brought together many of the world's greatest masterpieces including works by European titans such as Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso and Modigliani. Notwithstanding a richly-deserved reputation as a fractious and obstinate individual, Barnes was a strong advocate of progressive education and social equality and worked closely with African American communities, championing indigenous African art and doing much to launch the career of the African American artist, Horace Pippin. The Barnes Foundation currently displays paintings and sculptures alongside African masks, native American jewellery, Greek antiquities, and pieces of decorative metalwork.
- The Barnes Foundation was a triumph of art and philanthropy. Whatever his shortcomings as a rounded individual, his commitment to the betterment of public life was indisputable. He conceived of his Foundation as a means of demystifying fine art and his great success was to break down the elitist attitudes that dogged art education and appreciation. His Foundation's abiding contribution to the life of Philadelphians proved to be a gift to the cultural life all Americans.
- Having commissioned Matisse to provide the centrepiece for the Foundation's vast main gallery, Barnes can take credit for reinvigorating the Frenchman's flagging career. Though the sheer scale of The Dance proved to be a truly gruelling undertaking for the artist (not helped by the cantankerous behaviour of Barnes) it saw Matisse return to the emphasis on forms and color that distinguished his early career. In terms of his artistic development, the large dance-like cut-outs, formed around arched architectural backgrounds, would dictate Matisse's later work.
- Barnes had long held an interest in African art and African American culture. Having attended a solo exhibition of an unknown Horace Pippin in Philadelphia in 1940, Barnes bought several pieces for his collection and extended an invitation to Pippin to enrol at the Foundation as a student. Barnes became Pippin's greatest champion and even wrote an essay on the artist in lieu of his second solo exhibition in 1941.
- While Barnes is better known perhaps for his promotion of European art, this was not to the neglect of modern American artists. Indeed, in addition to his support for Pippin, he did much to raise the profile of homegrown artists, some of whom were associated with the New York Ashcan School. He formed lasting (if typically bumpy) friendships with American artists such as William Glackens, Alfred Henry Maurer, Maurice Prendergast, John Sloan and Charles Demuth.
Biography of Albert C. Barnes
Barnes was an uncompromising figure, "What we are trying to do at the Foundation has never been attempted before", was his claim. His goal was to reveal art; to, in his words, "link an objective study of pictures to the powers possessed by every normal human being and to do it with the aid of respectable educational methods".