Index of Historic Collectors and Dealers of Cubism
Barnes, Albert C.
Philadelphia, 1872–Chester County, Pa., 1951

Albert Barnes was an American pharmaceutical scientist who amassed one of the largest private collections of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century French art in the United States. His holdings also included African sculpture and folk materials, mixed with key examples of early modernism. Housed today in an institution he founded in Philadelphia, called the Barnes Foundation, the collection continues to reflect Barnes’s unique aesthetic and collecting principles.

Barnes grew up in a working-class family in Philadelphia and studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania before moving to Germany in 1894 to study pharmaceutical chemistry. Back in Philadelphia, in 1900, Barnes began developing an antiseptic with scientist Hermann Hille; marketed as Argyrol in the United States, the medication was used to treat infant blindness and brought Barnes great financial success. He founded his own pharmaceutical company, A.C. Barnes Company, in 1907 and just three years later, Barnes used his wealth to begin collecting art. He hired American Ashcan School painter Alfred Henry Maurer and former classmate William Glackens to buy paintings in Paris for his growing collection. The two purchased over twenty works for Barnes over the summer of 1910, largely from Paul Durand-Ruel. Barnes traveled to Paris for the first time in 1912, where he met Picasso and other artists through the collectors Gertrude and Leo Stein, and was introduced to contemporary French painting through the dealer Paul Guillaume (who would become Barnes’ dealer after World War I). That summer, he purchased seven works by Picasso from Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, including Picasso’s Head of a Man and Head of a Woman (both 1907; Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia). His collection soon expanded to include examples of African sculpture, Native American artifacts, Old Master drawings, and American modern art. By 1920, Barnes possessed forty-four works by Picasso, sixty works by Matisse, and the largest collection of Cézanne paintings in the world. His Cubist holdings include several studies for Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907; Museum of Modern Art, New York), Glass and Packet of Cigarettes (1911–12; Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia); and a suite of drawings from the artist’s Rose Period.

Barnes had been taking courses with American philosopher of aesthetics and educator John Dewey since the mid-1910s and sought to build an educational arts center according to a pedagogical system informed by a synthesis of Dewey’s philosophies and those of Spanish philosopher George Santayana. In 1922 Barnes received a charter from the state of Pennsylvania to create the Barnes Foundation as an educational institute that emphasized an active and direct experience with works of art and privileged visiting students and researchers over local socialites. The Barnes Foundation also included a series of in-house art classes and a publishing center, through which Barnes published a number of works on art and his collecting methods. Following Barnes’s death, the foundation opened to the public in 1961 and eventually moved to Philadelphia in 2012. To this day, Barnes’ collection is installed according to his unique aesthetic beliefs. Rather than follow chronology, style, or genre, the collection is grouped into “ensembles” that bridge artistic periods and cultures. Barnes often arranged works according to the formal concepts of light, space, color, and so on as a means of encouraging a more focused mediation with works of art.

Contributed by Rachel Boate, August 2017
For more information, see:

Barnes, Albert. The Art in Painting. San Diego: Harcourt Publishing, 1925.

Greenfield, Howard. The Devil and Dr. Barnes: Portrait of an American Art Collector. Philadelphia: Camino Books, 2006.

Schack, William. Art and Argyrol: The Life and Career of Dr. Albert C. Barnes. New York: T. Yoseloff, 1960.