Albert Barnes a chemist by profession is known as one of the most insightful and intuitive art collector. In late 19th century/early 20th century, when modern artists like Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani were considered too vague and forward, he invested in their artworks and gradually made an art collection of 2,500 art items which is currently worth at least $25-billion.
With his perceptive vision, he bought priceless artworks at advantageous prices. Artworks worth millions in today’s time were bought by him within four to three-figures price range. Today ‘The Barnes collection’ is considered to be the best private art collection of post-Impressionist era. The amazing collection includes – 69 Cézannes, 60 Matisses, 44 Picassos, 178 Renoirs, 18 Henri Rousseau, 14 Modigliani, 6 Georges Seurat, Edgar Degas, 7 Vincent van Gogh and more.
Shown below are some of the prized assets-
But his excellent taste in art is not the only thing he is known for, after Barnes’ death, ownership of his exclusive collection had become a very controversial issue. Only once, did Barnes showcase his private collection publically, the displayed artworks were brutally criticized and ridiculed by the local art circle leaving a permanent resentment towards the art critics and institutes of Philadelphian.
Before long, he got a mansion built and designed especially for his collection, access to which was limited to selected few, mainly art students. Idea was to make a school and use the art for educational programs rather than showcasing it as a typical museum. The arrangement of the paintings, ancient artifacts, furniture and other antique pieces (African sculptures, Asian prints, medieval manuscripts, Old master paintings of Peter Paul Rubens, and Titian) in the mansion was unique and aesthetically interesting unlike a museum-like clichéd display.
Artworks as displayed in Barnes Mansion
For the sake of his art collection, he founded ‘The Barnes Foundation’ which stated clearly that the artworks should be only used for educational purpose, they shouldn’t be sold and that the pieces should not be moved out of the mansion under any condition. The foundation permitted the collection to be open to the public, only for few days a week.
The building where the Barnes collection was displayed in Lower Merion
After Barnes death, in due course, as the masterpiece artworks value increased, The Philadelphia Art Museum, the very institute Barnes detested, claimed that the collection deserved to be made public. Supporters of the original foundation and nonprofit corporations voiced against the proposal since it conflicted with Barnes wishes. The factions accused the government of overlooking and disrespecting the basic rights of private property and monetizing the collection for tourism purpose. After years of legal struggle, the city finally obtains it for $107 million, a measly amount compared to the estimated $25 billion worth collection.
Supporters of the Barnes foundation protesting against the relocation of the art collection.
Vandalized signs of the protesters
‘The Art of the Steal’ is an excellent documentary worth watching (not to be mistaken with the Hollywood movie releases in 2013), it follows this controversial struggle for control of Dr. Albert C. Barnes’ 25 billion dollar collection of modern and post-impressionist art.
Other than Barnes’ radical art collection and controversies, what’s more intriguing and admirable is his keen sense of art and intuitive nature. Entrepreneur to the core, the fact that he formed a foundation to protect his art possession proves that he anticipated that his collection in due time would become priceless. He spent most of his fortune on the artworks which the art critics of his time, yet didn’t recognize as masterpieces. Art collectors and enthusiasts like Albert Barnes are rarities in the art world.