Court” at the
Top: Albert C. Barnes, collector.
Above: The outdoor space at the newly
built Barnes Foundation.
You might say that the Barnes Foundation, a new museum in Philadelphia, has the eccentric tastes of the century-old mind of its curator. Albert C. Barnes amassed a collection of hundreds of
Renoirs, Picassos, Cézannes and 800 other paintings—all
of which he meticulously arranged along with thousands of
pieces of pottery, handcrafted furniture and intricate ironwork, creating vignettes that cover entire walls of the massive gallery he built in the leafy suburbs of Philadelphia. And
Barnes, who lived at the turn of the last century and made a
fortune after inventing Argyrol, an antiseptic, was so particular about his collection that he stipulated in his will that
it not be rearranged—ever.
And so the artwork, pottery, furniture and metal are
displayed exactly as he intended, even at their new home:
the Barnes Foundation museum, which opens May 19 on the
Benjamin Franklin Park way, Philadelphia’s museum row.
The architects, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, built galleries
with the same scale and proportion as the rooms in the former suburban mansion, and carefully moved the collection
to its new (but identical) location within those rooms. They
also added a brand-new building with classrooms, a 150-seat
auditorium, public space and a 5,000-square-foot gallery for
Barnes’ collection—some 181 Renoirs, 169 Cézannes,
46 Picassos, 21 Soutines, four Manets, four Monets and seven
Matisses as well as works by Titian, Goya and El Greco; African sculpture, Pennsylvania German decorative arts, Native
American textiles, metalwork and more—is estimated to be
worth $25 billion. It also is thought to be one of the largest
impressionist, post-impressionist and early modern collections ever amassed. Visitors will be sufficiently wowed by
its beauty, certainly, but also by its volume. Nothing in the
display space has changed, and that’s just how the eccentric
Barnes would have wanted it. 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia; 215-640-0171; barnesfoundation.org