Barnes Foundation Erases Memories of Collector, Dog

Less than a year after Albert Barnes’s art, uprooted from its original home in Merion, Pennsylvania, occupied new quarters, the collector himself has been removed from the Philadelphia museum that now houses his treasures.

Last May, after years of lawsuits and heated opposition, the Barnes Foundation -- the name of the body that oversees the collection -- moved the art to a modern building in downtown Philadelphia.

Barnes, a doctor, chemist and all around eccentric, died in 1951 leaving an astonishing collection that included 181 Renoirs.

Though his will expressly forbade moving the pictures from Merion, the foundation argued more visitors could be processed on a major roadway in town.

The new museum opened with a special show that many perceived as an effort to soothe critics of the move. It was called “Ensemble: Albert C. Barnes and the Experiment in Education,” and told the early history of the foundation from its founding in 1922.

Dog Bed

In essence, it was a tribute to Barnes himself, drawing from archival material to examine the man’s friendships and collaborations as he assembled the collection, refined his aesthetic and established the foundation’s educational curriculum.

The show also included letters signed by his beloved dog Fidele and its specially constructed little bed. A vitrine celebrated Barnes’s development of Argyrol, an antiseptic useful for the treatment of gonorrhea.

This reflection and ode to the man without whom there would be no Barnes Foundation to visit, has now been closed to make room for “Ellsworth Kelly: Sculpture on the Wall,” which opens on May 4.

While the Barnes tribute was never described as permanent, its removal struck some as a further slight to the man and his legacy.

The show was dismantled “when no arrangements have been made for a permanent display on this subject anywhere in the building,” according to Evelyn Yaari, president of a group called Barnes Watch, who wrote a letter of protest to Derek Gillman, executive director and president of the Barnes Foundation.

“Although I learned from your colleague Andrew Stewart that there have been discussions about such a display, the fact that no concrete plans were developed in advance indicates that this is not a priority for the administration or the Board of Trustees,” Yaari wrote on behalf of her group as well as Friends of the Barnes Foundation. “This is deeply troubling.”

Permanent Tributes

Jan Rothschild, the Barnes Foundation’s senior vice president for communications, said in an e-mail that the museum has recent publications about Barnes that “are permanent tributes that help to raise his profile.”

In addition, “we are planning an event to celebrate Dr. Barnes as we kick off our anniversary weekend on May 15,” Rothschild said. “On that day we will move the Di Chirico portrait of him to the gallery entrance.”

Other material “is being prepared for presentation on our website, as orientation for our visitors and for display in other parts” of the building,” Rothschild said.

Muse highlights include Philip Boroff on theater.

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