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
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little