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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

The Barnes Foundation: A Collector's Vision

All-Day Weekend Program on Zoom

Saturday, March 13, 2021 - 10:00 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1NVF43

Dr. Albert C. Barnes (The Barnes)


Albert C. Barnes, a pharmacologist who made his fortune by co-inventing an antiseptic, began buying modern art in 1912. Drawing on his own instincts and expert guidance, he eventually assembled a dazzling collection of primarily French post-impressionist works that reflect his eye, his love for art, and his interest in the creators of his time.

Bill Perthes, Bernard C. Watson director of adult education at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, offers a comprehensive look at how a collector’s unique vision created an equally distinctive institution rooted in its founder’s belief that art has the power to improve minds and transform lives.

10 a.m.  Barnes and His Collection

Albert Barnes rose from poverty to build one of the world’s finest collections of post-impressionist paintings. In the early 1920s he established the Barnes Foundation in the Philadelphia suburb of Merrion as a school where anyone with an interest could learn about the universal nature of artistic expression and its relationship to everyday lived experiences—a guiding principle that endures.

11:15 a.m.  A Vision of Education

Having secured his fortune, Barnes dedicated himself to progressive education through the arts and social justice. He found an intellectual partner in the American Pragmatic philosopher John Dewey, the foundation’s first director of education. Barnes was an early, often anonymous, supporter of the Harlem Renaissance and created an indelible connection to Pennsylvania’s Lincoln University, one of the country’s first historically black colleges and universities.

12:30 p.m.  Break

1 p.m.  Ensembles and Displays

The Barnes Foundation’s collection is singular in both content and arrangement. In both the original Merrion galleries and those in the current City Center Philadelphia location, the collection is organized in what Barnes called “ensembles,” creating surprising juxtapositions among paintings, furniture, metalwork, ceramics, and textiles. The ensembles challenge viewers to see unexpected relationships among seemingly dissimilar objects. Meant as teaching tools, the ensembles allow for a more holistic understanding of artistic expression.

2:15 p.m.  Barnes and American Art and Artists

Although best known for French post-impressionism, the Barnes Foundation contains a rich collection of early 20th-century American modernist paintings. Barnes had close relationships with many of the artists he collected, including Horace Pippin, Alfred Maurer, Maurice and Charles Prendergast, Charles Demuth, and William Glackens. The history of the Barnes Foundation is very much an American one, individualistic in character and guided by democratic principles.

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*


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*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.

This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.