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Art at its finest featured tonight during PBS summer festival Barnes' collection

Dave Masko's picture

Take a break from the Summer Olympics, and sit back and enjoy rare art from Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse, Renoir and many others featured during Friday night’s “PBS Arts Summer Festival.”

The PBS “Arts Summer Festival” continues Friday night, Aug, 3, at 9/8c with a rare look at the famed Dr. Albert Barnes’ collection in Philadelphia; while this TV documentary traces the “remarkable rise” of Doctor Barnes “from Philadelphia’s working-class neighborhood to the top of the modern art world.” This unique tale bounces back and forth through time as the late Doctor Barnes travels the world to collect works of art by some of history’s most famous artists - Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse, Renoir and many others. The film also “digs deep into the intricacies of each painting, offering a rare look at the priceless collection and the new Philadelphia museum that houses it,” added the PBS marketing promotion for this unique look at some very rare classic art that’s now been put on display for the world to enjoy. The Barnes Foundation building is located on Franklin Parkway in downtown Philadelphia.

Rare art featured August 3 on PBS

Today, the Barnes Foundation possesses more than 2,500 objects – including 800 paintings – estimated to be worth about $25 billion. These are primarily works by impressionist and modernist masters, but the collection includes many paintings by leading European and American artists, as well as ancient works from other cultures, explained the preview on the PBS Arts Summer Festival website.

In turn, PBS states that its summer arts festival is aimed at “expanding the scope and diversity of the arts on television, with a multi-part weekly series and new original online content that takes viewers across the country and around the world.”

Also, this Aug. 3 edition of the PBS Arts Summer Festival features the award-winning television, film and stage star Anna Deavere Smith (“Nurse Jackie,” “The West Wing”) who serves as weekly host for the Summer Festival, which continues each Friday evening throughout the summer months on PBS.

Why is the Barnes’ collection so special?

A recent story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explains that this Aug. 3 television offering on PBS is most special indeed because it features art by the “masters” that’s not yet been viewed by the general public.

For instance, the stunning “Madras Rouge,” from 1907 by Henri Matisse (that accompanies this story) is one of many other top works of art that are now featured in the Barnes Foundation exhibit.

"It is as if the room was infested with some infectious scourge," wrote a local critic about paintings and sculpture collected by Albert C. Barnes and exhibited in 1923 at the Philadelphia Academy of the Fine Arts.

"The Barnes Collection," part of the PBS Arts Summer Festival series that will air 9 p.m. Friday nationwide “richly tells the story of Dr. Barnes (1872-1951), and his collection currently valued at $25 billion; while the foundation he established in 1922.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story said “it is timely because the artwork has been moved to a recently opened building constructed for it on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, 7 miles from its original home in a high-end suburban neighborhood. It is also controversial because the move has been challenged as a violation of Barnes' will that in addition reduces his far-reaching philosophic and educational concept to a visitor bureau commodity. These conflicts are alluded to in the documentary but rather blithely explained away.”

For instance, the film does paint “a rounded picture of Barnes, a colorful visionary with roots in working-class Philadelphia whose rejection by the establishment was the beginning of a unique experiment that anticipated diversity within and cross-disciplinary approaches to art by a half century,” added the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story.

Who was Doctor Barnes?

According to this recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report, “Barnes graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1892 and taught for two years before concluding at age 22 that ‘universities were nearly worthless.’ He became a professional gambler and said he received more education at the racetracks than in seven years of college. He also made enough money to continue his studies at the University of Berlin, Germany, where he began a partnership with a German chemist. Together they invented and marketed Argyrol, which, among other uses, was dropped into the eyes of newborns to prevent blindness caused by the gonorrhea bacteria.”

Also, by 1902 he'd made enough money to retire "if I'd been built that way." Instead, he turned his energies toward "intelligent efforts to change a bad social order," an interest he'd had since childhood.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story also explains how Doctor Barnes “began to investigate art with his childhood friend, William Glackens, a co-founder of the Ashcan School of realist painters, who depicted gritty scenes of urban life. In 1911, he sent Mr. Glackens to Paris with $20,000 to ‘buy some good modern paintings.’ He kept 20 of the 33 shipped back and soon was off to France himself. He later described the pleasures of art collecting: ‘The least is the mere possession; the best is the joy that one can feel but not express to others.’ When Barnes debuted choice works at the Philadelphia Academy, he knew he was introducing artists rarely if ever seen in the U.S., and he expected discussion. He apparently didn't anticipate wholesale rejection by the critical, academic and institutional communities united within a group think mindset.”

"According to the code of 'freedom' so popular among these 'artists,' the individual is supreme," the aforementioned critic continued. "Unclean thoughts crowd into the mind - thoughts utterly untrue to oneself."

Also, what’s interesting, adds the PBS overview for the program, is how Barnes visited the exhibition daily and heard comments "about not only the paintings but of myself as a charlatan and a degenerate."

The exhibition, he wrote to a colleague, "has stirred the indignation of ignorant people as it has never been stirred before in Philadelphia."

Throughout his life, “Barnes tenaciously pursued his collecting and study of art and philosophies, but spoke of feeling lonely and having no social life, other than occasional visits by Mr. Glackens and other artists (his wife is not mentioned in the film). While he has been at times portrayed as a curmudgeon and therefore difficult to be around, I suspect his loneliness was due more to a lack of kindred spirits who could celebrate his complexities, and the fact that he was ‘almost alone in the entire continent collecting painting such as mine,’” added the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story.

PBS arts TV program features rare look inside a top collection

Beyond archival material, the documentary includes interviews with contemporary Barnes Foundation staff; the designers of the new Barnes, Billie Tsien and Tod Williams; and its construction crew. The enthusiasm for the new building is genuine among most, and the designers worked hard to create a poetic and respectful space.

At the same time, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story notes how “there is no recognition that the Barnes Foundation was much more than a building full of Renoirs, Cezannes, Picassos, Matisses and the like. There is no questioning of the explanation given of fiscal loss to justify the move, nor of why options to shore up the original site weren't explored. This is a missed opportunity not only for those who have opposed the move since the beginning but also because the museum -- both new site and remnant institution -- will remain overshadowed by suspected misdealing in back rooms.”

The PBS Arts Summer Festival continues each Friday evening at 9/8c with viewers asked to check times for airing of this Barnes Foundation art collection TV program, and future “arts” focused presentations in your local area.

Image source of a view of the very rate “Madras Rouge,” painting by Henri Matisse from 1907 that’s featured during the Aug. 3 airing of the PBS Arts Summer Festival featuring the art of Dr. Albert Barnes’ collection that’s now on public exhibition in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

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