Modigliani, Reclining Nude 1917. Barnes Collection
Wisely Barnes recognised that he needed an art expert to provide him with advice, before buying any art. As William Glackens was familiar with many of the leading artists and dealers in France, Barnes sent Glackens to Paris in 1912 with $20,000 to spend on modern art. Glackens returned home with impressionist (Renoir and Manet) and post-impressionist (Cezanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin) paintings.
Renoir, The Promenade, 1906. Barnes Foundation
The reaction from most of the Philadelphian viewers towards this French Impressionist and post Impressionist art was extremely hostile. Dr Barnes vowed never to present a public exhibition again. When his own building opened in 1925, it was by invitation only. His art-hanging policy was unusual, but it was exactly what Barnes wanted.
He had worked all his adult life on this collection, and spent his own hard-earned money, so control of his collection was of utmost importance to him. By 1929, Barnes was rich enough to sell his drug company, to devote himself full-time to art collecting and to the Foundation. In his will, he was quite happy to leave his art to the state, with specific conditions that controlled how the works were to be housed and displayed in perpetuity.
Soutine, Little Pastry Cook 1922. Barnes Collection
Can the Board members of a gallery flout the legally binding conditions in a will, decades after the benefactor has died and despite the donor family’s commitment to their grandfather’s vision? It would seem from the Barnes example that the state courts will indeed cave in to the Board’s lawyers and will not honour the original will.
If the Board absolutely positively cannot live one minute longer with the conditions as stated in the original will, then they must give the entire collection back to the family. They cannot accept Dr Barnes’ personal project that took him a lifetime, sign off on the will’s conditions, THEN complain that the world has changed since 1925. Which part of "keeping control of his collection was of utmost importance to him" did the lawyers not understand?
The wonderful title for this post came from Michael Hall, writing in Country Life, 1st Aug 2012.
The Barnes Foundation in Merion
A stunning art collection was created in the late 19th century by The Marquis of Hertford. His daughter in law eventually bequeathed all the works of art to the nation, on condition that the collection remains perfectly intact - not even loans out to other galleries’ exhibitions would be accepted. The museum board agreed and opened The Wallace Collection to the public in 1900 in Hertford House London. What would happen now if the current museum board decided to ignore the conditions of the original bequest?