Thursday, August 6, 2015

Barnes Foundation

A couple of weeks ago I noticed one of the prongs on my engagement ring was
twisted. By now you are wondering "Jacquie, what does this have to do with the Barnes Foundation?" I'm getting to that. All stories have to start someplace, and mine begins with my engagement ring.

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, Don designed and purchased my engagement ring from Barsky Diamonds on Jewelers Row in Philadelphia. At the time they said to come back each year to have the prongs checked, but like so many other things in life, it has not happened.

In November 2013 I decided it was time to give up on my finger returning to its pre-pregnancy size and had the ring made larger (after all, Ashley was 11 by then). Of course we took the ring to Barsky's. At that time Mr. Barsky was at his usual place greeting everyone who walked through the door. This time we did not see Mr. Barsky. We did see the man who set the ring 24 years ago, and other long-time employees. We did not ask any questions, so maybe he was off that day.

It seemed silly to go into Philly for a 30 minute ring adjustment and cleaning (yes, the diamond really sparkled), so we decided to go to the Barnes Foundation (see, I told you we would get around to that). Don and I remember going to the Barnes Foundation in its original location in Merion, Pennsylvania about 15 years ago with Sylvia. This was our first time visiting the collection in the new location near many other Philadelphia museums. The original location's grounds are open on weekends from March through November as the Barnes Arboretum. We did not go there.

To be honest, we chose the Barnes Foundation to visit that day because Don's employer, Comcast, gave everyone free tickets, and because we have wanted to see the new location. They opened their doors on May 19. 2012, so we are not too, too far behind.

I wish I could say I have a photographic memory and can tell you the collection is exactly as it was in the old location. I do know that was their intention. According to their website:

The Barnes Foundation was established by Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture.” The Barnes holds one of the finest collections of Post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings, with extensive works by Pierre-Auguste RenoirPaul C├ęzanne,Henri MatissePablo PicassoHenri RousseauAmedeo ModiglianiChaim Soutine andGiorgio de Chirico, as well as American masters Charles DemuthWilliam Glackens,Horace Pippin and Maurice Prendergast, Old Master paintings, important examples of African sculpture and Native American ceramics, jewelry and textiles, American paintings and decorative arts and antiquities from the Mediterranean region and Asia. The Barnes Foundation’s Art and Aesthetics programs engage a diverse array of audiences. These programs, occurring at the Philadelphia campus, online, and in Philadelphia communities, advance the mission through progressive, experimental and interdisciplinary teaching and learning.

Mr. Barnes was very peculiar about how his artwork is laid out. The website shows some pictures. I listened in on a guide explaining some of his rational for why he wanted certain pieces in very specific places. It was not because they were by the same artist, but because he felt they belonged together. To many the walls seem cluttered, until you recognize the symmetry happening. 

Photography is not allowed in the museum, but it was allowed in this one room. This room had art by 3 different artist laid out in the style of Mr. Barnes, or at least their interpretation of his style. Here is the simplest one:

Cluttered, but with symmetry. 

If you decide to go, I recommend going on a tour. I think renting the headsets would even be too complicated. There is a lot to see, but understanding Mr. Barnes would go a long way to appreciating his less than traditional approach to hanging art.

We walked past the Rodin Museum on our way to the car. Unfortunately that was already closed. We need to get an earlier start next time we go into Philadelphia. 


  1. I love a city where you can just "happen upon a place" and find the most wonderful gems. I imagine much of the northeastern part of the country to be just that, but chances are they are everywhere. It takes a bit of intentional adventuring sometimes, but often worth the effort.

  2. Philly is a very walkable city, which makes "happen upon a place" experiences easier to, well, happen. Unfortunately mass transit from our part of NJ to Philly is not convenient. We are only about 45 minutes away without traffic, but don't visit nearly often enough.