The Barnes Foundation was created by Albert C. Barnes MD prior to his death in 1951. Dr. Barnes had become quite wealthy from the sale of a colloidal silver antiseptic intended to combat infant gonorrheal blindness and then from the sale of the company which made it. He used a great deal of his money to collect art - and he had a very good eye. He decided that the Impressionist painters and their associates were important before the conventional Art World did, and bought an enormous number of their works with the help of several of his friends to act as agents and introductions.

By the time of his death, he had acquired over 800 paintings (including 181 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, for example) and 2500 objets d'art comprising furniture, pottery, masks, wrought iron work and more. He built a building to house his collection in Lower Merion County, Pennsylvania, set in an estate of excellent gardens. There, he started the Foundation as a school to teach others about art - and limited access to the collection to students and teachers at this school, and those he personally deemed worthy.

That was the rub - he deemed most of the cultural elites, especially of nearby Philadelphia, extremely unworthy and refused them access. As often happens when stubborn rich people butt heads, a feud began which would last for decades and result in a long tale of skullduggery, insult and revenge.

The Foundation was created to care for and protect Barnes' legacy - the art collection. For thirty years after his death, it was administered by his closest assistant, a Frenchwoman named Violetta de Mazie, in nearly exactly the way he himself had managed it. Following her death in the 1980s, however, the control over the membership of the board of directors of the Foundation passed (via a late addition to Barnes' will, no doubt intended to stick it to the very white and uppercrust opponents of his lifetime) to Lincoln University.

At present, despite Barnes' explicit instruction that the collection never be moved, loaned or sold (especially to the hated art snobs of Philadelphia) it resides in a brand new facility on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in that very city. It has been sent abroad (and worse, to the Philadelphia Museum of Art) in its history, and what Barnes wanted for it is pretty much in tatters at this point. How this occurred is documented elsewhere. Whether or not it is a bad thing is left to the reader. The value of the collection has been placed as high as $30 billion U.S.

The art is presented in pretty much exactly the way the obsessive Barnes placed it in his building in Lower Merion. Each room of that building, down to the burlap wall coverings, windows and floors, has been duplicated within the new facility, and the art placed within exactly as it had been in its previous home. So you can still get a feel for what Barnes was doing with the works, even viewing them now. It's a humbling and overpowering experience.

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