A very private art collection goes public: Patrick Cockburn on the world's first chance to savour priceless paintings
Patrick Cockburn is an Irish journalist who has been a Middle East correspondent since 1979 for the Financial Times and, presently, The Independent. He was awarded Foreign Commentator of the Year at the 2013 Editorial Intelligence Comment Awards.
Sunday 14 March 1993
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.
- 1 Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
- 2 Kate Moss: Previously unpublished nude photo revealed by Mert and Marcus
- 4 World Book Day: Boy 'excluded' from school after dressing up as Fifty Shades' Christian Grey
- 5 Bad Jews poster 'censored' on London Tube
Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
Indian woman creates 'Marriage CV' after parents put her on dating site: 'Definitely not marriage material. Won’t grow long hair, ever'
Becky Watts: Four appear in court charged with hiding body parts after teenager's death
Isis 'bulldozes' Nimrud: UNESCO condemns destruction of ancient Assyrian site as a 'war crime'
Professor Brian Cox brands astrology-believing Tory MP David Tredinnick an 'outlier on the spectrum of reason'
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Elif Shafak: Turkish author warns against rise of British nationalism
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests
Nigel Farage promises Ukip will not 'stigmatise' would-be migrants – and says he wants 'everyone to speak the same language'
£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...
£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...
£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...
£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...