Saturday, November 28, 2015


The author of this blog in front of Ellsworth Kelly
at the new Barnes Foundation,

On a crisp day in late November, we walked toward the entrance to the new Barnes Foundation in the center of Philadelphia and we stopped to admire a lightning bolt that was frozen in place by Ellsworth Kelly anchored at the foot of a reflecting pool alongside the museum.  Made of stainless steel, this was a new addition to the Kelly oeuvre completed in 2012 when this most recent incarnation of the Barnes opened for business.

In Philadelphia: Barnes' door

The Barnes now has two locations, the old site in Merion, Pennsylvania and this new building designed by Tod Williams and Billy Tsien, that we are about to enter.

"Strength and Splendor"
at The Barnes Foundation

We had been to the old location a number of times, and now we're going to see the collection on the new campus which is essentially a building inside a building.  The new large central meeting space has a wonderful wood floor, and a show of fancy iron work on loan from a museum in France.  "Strength and Splendor" consists of many wrought iron works: elaborate door handles, hinges, hooks and locks from the skilled hands of a long lineage of fine craftsmen.

American Indian pottery 
at the Barnes Foundation

There are three levels at the new Barnes Foundation which we looked at starting in the basement next  to the gift shop where we found marvelous ceramics from the American west in a tall glass case, and right away we were faced with the task of trying to identify what we were looking at because there are no wall labels in the Barnes, only numbers.  In each room you have to look for the printed paper guides for each ensemble if you want the details, later you can go online and visit their website for more information.

Matisse, Seurat, Cezanne, Renoir, and so much more..

When the Barnes Foundation decided to move, there was a lot of controversy, but I tried to put those thoughts away as we all paused to look over the new building under an enormous skylight.  The old building proportions from Merion remain intact in each of the rooms, and for paintings like the three lunettes that make up the Matisse "The Dance" - that was absolutely essential.  There were other critical factors that came over from the original building including lighting and even the wall coverings.  Your eyes adjust to the lower light levels that provide a softer impression of each artwork which you find inside and not the bright spotlights one expects to find in a modern art gallery.

Cezanne at the Barnes Foundation

What a marvelous museum!  Absolutely engaging collection of paintings, sculpture, metalwork and more that Dr. Barnes has preserved.  The artists featured here are mostly Europeans, but I did notice a few works by the American Horace Pippin and tribal carvings from Africa and even Polynesia.  In the main room are major masterpieces from Cezanne ( cardplayers ), Seurat ( the models ), Matisse (The Dance), and some endearing smaller works from Corot, and Chardin and then you can go to the right or the left and discover riches in either direction.

Dr. Barnes by Giorgio DeChirico

There are so many pieces of art in the Barnes collection it is a wonder the man had time for anything else.  When we visited, the whole neighborhood around the Barnes Foundation seemed to be under construction, and the city center certainly is growing and looking very prosperous.

Barnes Foundation building by Tod Williams and Billy Tsein

The new Barnes Foundation building is a long rectangle, and I understand that Frank Gehry has been commissioned to create a new wing for the Philadelphia Museum of Art right across the boulevard, so this is going to be a great destination.  Back inside, we studied each room for paintings and drawings that we didn't remember from our last turn around the collection.  Thinking about today, I wonder who has the intense passion for collecting modern art that Dr. Barnes had.  I also wonder what collections of the art being done today will tell people a hundred years hence.  The images we have seen in the collection here let us view what life was like for some at the turn into the 20th century and a bit beyond.  There are a few glimpses into abstraction where Picasso's influence has been felt, but very little along that line.

Modigliani at The Barnes Foundation

For this trip there were too many paintings by Renoir, and every Cezanne I studied seemed fresh and still amazing.  If you go, prepare to spend the entire afternoon there, because it takes you that long to go through each room, and you still won't have time for everything!

Barnes Foundation entrance
Ellsworth Kelly