No art museum is quite like Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation,
which intertwines glorious masterpieces and the original owner’s
eccentricities so tightly that to wander the galleries is to spend a few
hours inside his head.
A decade ago, crushed for space (and frankly, money), the
trustees of pharmaceutical entrepreneur Albert C. Barnes’s personal
collection—opened to the public after his death in 1951 and housed in
suburban Lower Merion—decided to relocate the museum to downtown, right on
the Benjamin Franklin Parkway near the Rodin Museum and the Philadelphia
Museum of Art. The new facility, which opened a year ago, is fantastic:
sweeping, well lit, and modern—yet each of Barnes’s original arrangements
in all 24 of his galleries is reproduced exactly.
The collection—every wall of which was arranged by Barnes, with
works ranging from weathervanes and African sculptures to Matisses,
Picassos, Cézannes, and the world’s largest collection of Renoirs—is
grouped thematically: One painting plays off another, or a sculpture
mimics a shape in a nearby painting. To fully appreciate the place, take a
guided tour. Just be sure to buy tickets far in advance—moving downtown
has turned the Barnes into a hot ticket.