A last look at the old Barnes

Henri Matisse, Le bonheur de vivre, 1905-6, Oil on canvas.  175 x 241 cm.  In the collection of the Barnes Foundation.
Henri Matisse, Le bonheur de vivre, 1905-6, Oil on canvas. 175 x 241 cm. In the collection of the Barnes Foundation.
(Barnes Foundation)

The New York Times gives an interactive final tour through the Barnes Foundation, the amazing collection of Impressionist, post-Impressionist, and early modernist art that was displayed in a neoclassical home in Merion, Penn., until June. Pharmaceutical tycoon Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) created the museum in suburban Philadelphia in 1925.

His pioneering collection of works by the likes of Cézanne, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, Modigliani, Prendergast, Glackens, Demuth, and Seurat was hung salon-style and interspersed with metalwork, African sculpture and more, reflecting his very personal vision for the museum which he intended primarily as a study center.

Barnes stipulated that no picture in the collection could be lent, sold or moved from his "wall ensembles." He created a charter and strict bylaws.

In 2004, a judge overturned Barnes' wish to keep the collection intact and unmoved. The ruling allowed the foundation to relocate into Philadelphia's Center City. A heated controversy continues over the decision.

Some laud an expanding "Museum Mile" of cultural institutions in the city center with the Barnes collection ensconced in a more accessible building near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The centrally-located, four-times larger building will entice more visitors to come see the $25 billion art collection which will keep the foundation afloat financially, say supporters.

Others decry the loss of the founder's vision for viewing the art and the experience of his home museum, among many other reasons, as detailed in the 2009 documentary film "The Art of the Steal."

View the New York Times' digital tour for a peek into the old Barnes before it closed. The new building on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, is scheduled to open in May 2012. 

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