A Unique Experience in Philadelphia

The Barnes Foundation

by Karen S. Murray

A visit to the Barnes Foundation Museum in Philadelphia is not to be missed. It is unlike any other art museum you have experienced, with its eclectic collection of impressionist paintings mixed in and displayed along with artifacts, antique furniture, ceramics, sculpture, folk art, and more. It is the vision of Dr. Albert Barnes who, in 1925, opened the original museum in Lower Merion to showcase his collection and to foster new approaches to education and art appreciation (which is the reason for the creation of his foundation in 1922). He believed in experiential learning and used art in a broader intellectual sense, specifically in developing critical thinking skills. With 181 Renoirs, 69 Cezannes, 59 Matisses, and a few Picassos thrown in, the museum is chock-full of masterpieces alongside lesser known pieces. Paintings mingle with African sculpture, ancient artifacts, iron hinges and locks, Native American art, period furniture, modern art and sketches, and jewelry.

      Still Life by Paul Cezanne

Inagaki Mask

You name it, you will find art in its many forms, co-habitating the same space for all to observe, study, think about, or to simply sit and look at. Barnes’ “ensembles” cover floor to ceiling in most of the rooms. There are no identifying labels on the walls; instead booklets with visual wall  diagrams can be found in each room of the collection.

In 2012, the Barnes was re-created at its current location, inside a modern minimalist building on the Ben Franklin Parkway in the heart of Philadelphia. Right down to the mustard colored walls and unique layout, the faithful reproduction of the original is improved, most would agree, with better and more lighting, increased space and easier access. The 12,000 square foot building also provides classrooms, lecture hall, libraries and archives, as well as a restaurant and gift shop.

In addition to the permanent collection, the Barnes offers special exhibits and programs, as well as classes and talks. You can even catch some live music regularly on the weekends. If you are looking for a unique experience and enjoy beautiful objects of art, check out the Barnes Foundation during your next visit to Philly (as long as it’s not a Tuesday…they are closed). Prepare to be impressed by Impressionism!


{All photos courtesy of barnesfoundation.org}

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