Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Most Irascible Art Collector

Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) was an American chemist who made his fortune by the development of a pharmaceutical; which he sold for 6 million dollars. This fortune enabled him to indulge his passion for buying art.

He had a keen eye for art and business. It was the Depression and many a failed businessman had to sell his art collection. As Barnes said, " specialty was robbing the suckers who had invested all their money in flimsy securities and then had to sell their priceless paintings to keep a roof over their heads."

In time, Barnes would own 69 Cezannes, 60 Matisses, 141 Renoirs and 44 Picassos. In all, he would amass some 2500 paintings! His collection included artists such as: Degas, Van Gogh, Modigliani, Seurat, and Rousseau.

Barnes had a particular disdain for art historians. He felt that they "stifled self-expression and art appreciation." As a result, in 1923 he opened his home for public viewing of the collection. The public had little understanding of the avant garde art and the critics gave the collection unfavorable reviews.

After that experience, Barnes allowed only limited access to the collection; which resided in his Pennsylvania home. He alone could grant access and he had no qualms about turning down requests from people such as T. S. Eliot and James A. Michener. (and, of course, any art historians or critics).

Before his death, he set up a foundation for his collection. Given his irascible nature, the terms of the Barnes Foundation would prove controversial and even make the news in 2011!

Next Week: The Barnes Foundation Turmoil (and the most beautiful art images.)


  1. I read about him. He was quite interesting in his approach to art. Thanks for the info. Jack

  2. This Barnes guy sounds like a genuine curmudgeon. The term irascible fits. sz