A very private art collection goes public: Patrick Cockburn on the world's first chance to savour priceless paintings

DR Albert C Barnes, owner of one of the finest art collections in the world, so disliked the art establishment that he once had John Walker, director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington and a polio victim, physically thrown out of the Barnes gallery in Philadelphia.

When Dr Barnes died in 1951, he willed that his dollars 3bn ( pounds 2bn) collection, which includes 180 paintings by Renoir, 69 by Cezanne, 60 by Matisse, 44 by Picasso and seven by Van Gogh, should never leave the limestone chateau he had built to house them in Merion Station, an inaccessible suburb of Philadelphia. Here the 2,000 paintings he bought with the profits from his silver nitrate business (a pharmaceutical subcontractor) were on display for two-and-a-half days a week. The only reproductions allowed were in black and white, of poor quality and only for use in scholarly publications. No museum was to have access to the collection.

Now, as the result of a court case, 80 of the paintings will be shown to the world on an international tour that will bring them to Washington, Paris and Tokyo. The pictures on show will include Matisse's 'The Joy of Life', painted in 1906, and Cezanne's 'Card Players', one of his finest works. Other paintings to be released from Merion Station for the first time are Seurat's 'Models' of 1888 and Matisse's earliest version of 'The Dance', commissioned by Dr Barnes for the main hall of his foundation.

The tour will be the first for the Barnes collection; it may also be the last. The only reason it is taking place is that Dr Barnes did not leave enough money to maintain his museum. The president of the Barnes Foundation, Richard Glanton, says the tour will raise dollars 7m to bring the museum up to modern standards. The Musee d'Orsay in Paris is expected to pay dollars 2.5m for the rights to show the collection and the Museum of Western Art in Tokyo dollars 4.5m.

The terms of Dr Barnes's will, after he was killed in a car crash 40 years ago, prevented paintings from leaving Merion or being reproduced in colour. It even determined the precise wall on which each painting was to hang in the gallery. Only the surname of the artist was to be noted, without date or title.

Originally Mr Glanton wanted to sell some paintings to raise money, but last year a Pennsylvania court decided that a tour was the best way to restore the buildings where the Barnes collection was housed. Mr Glanton himself came under attack for his plans for reconstruction. Dr Barnes had originally given control of the foundation to Lincoln College, a black liberal arts university in Pennsylvania. He had taught at Lincoln, collected paintings by American blacks and supported the Harlem Renaissance. In contrast Mr Glanton, a Republican corporate lawyer who co-chaired George Bush's campaign in 1988, was attacked for being an archetypal establishment figure of the kind Dr Barnes disliked most.

The trustees who now control the Barnes collection are also involved in litigation with their predecessors. When Dr Barnes died, his foundation was run for the following 30 years by the De Mazia Trust, set up by Violette de Mazia, a friend and reputed mistress of Dr Barnes, who shared his ideas on art. She said the collection was arranged 'to excite the student's curiosity as to why these apparently disparate objects are placed in the same room, at times on the same wall'.

The Barnes collection is being closed for two years while the tour takes place, though its classes on the history and philosophy of art will continue. A chirpy recorded voice advertises its first colour catalogue. 'Please look for it at your local bookstore,' it says. After half a century, idiosyncratic isolation is being replaced by US art gallery sales patter.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
News
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
News
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
television
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
art
Sport
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
football
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
fashion
News
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
news
Sport
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable