Friday, September 21, 2012

The beauties of the Barnes: Part II

Rousseau, "Bouquet of Flowers"
Millionaire art collector Albert Barnes was a maverick who had good reason for loathing the mainline Philadelphia art establishment. From the Barnes Journal: “Reviews of an exhibition in early 1923 of a selection of Barnes’s newly purchased paintings and sculptures at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, called them 'revolting,' 'debased,' and 'unclean.'”
“The artist must open our eyes to what unaided we could not see.” That statement was one of Barnes' touchstones for collecting art, and history has certainly vindicated him. As Barry Schwabsky wrote in The Nation:
“It’s hard to remember now, when any prudent portfolio of investments includes contemporary art—and the more extreme, the better—that buying the works of avant-garde artists once seemed even madder than making it, and this long after the deaths of pioneers like Van Gogh and Rousseau. Albert Barnes was one of those extreme eccentrics, and he discovered just how naïve he was in 1923 when he exhibited part of his collection—works by Soutine, Modigliani, Matisse and others—at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. The local papers deemed it a scandal, and medical authorities thought the art worthy of the insane. From then on, Barnes was at war with almost any person or institution that claimed cultural authority in his hometown….
Rousseau, "Monkeys and Parrot in the Virgin Forest 
(Singes et perroquet dans la forêt vierge)" c. 1905–1906
Instead of curating to illustrate an artist’s development, or to showcase his or her most typical works, Barnes concentrated on art that appealed to him most strongly as 'plastic form' without reference to biography or history. In so doing, he highlighted features of the artist’s aesthetic that may be obscured when other museums— not without good reason—place their works in determinate historical contexts. Barnes allows familiar artists to be seen differently. Since his time, the tide of taste has turned decisively against Renoir, one of his favorite artists, while continuing to reinforce the importance of another favorite, Cézanne. At the Barnes it becomes possible to see the forgotten affinities between them, to perceive something of Renoir’s sensual ecstasy in a Cézanne like The Allée of Chestnut Trees at the Jas de Bouffan (ca. 1888), and to notice how his The Large Pear (1895–98) seems to rock like a boat on a wave of overwhelming feeling; while a Renoir landscape such as Dovecote at Bellevue (ca. 1888–89) possesses an intensity of conviction one would have thought was entirely Cézanne’s.” Above right: Modigliani's "The Pretty Housewife (La Jolie ménagère)"
Van Gogh, "Still Life"

 Van Gogh, "The Smoker"

Many of the paintings I saw at the Barnes revealed familiar artists in a new light; for example, a quotidian domestic scene by Manet ("La Ligne"), a jewel-like portrait by Monet ("Mme Monet Embroidering"), and a mythological subject by Cezanne ("Leda and the Swan").


Further reading: Amedeo Modigliani: Nudes and Portraits
Images © 2012 The Barnes Foundation

15 comments:

  1. love the Barnes posts

    and the wonderful paintings

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  2. Love it! Isn't all great art revolting, debased and unclean (haha)?

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  3. These paintings are so beautiful! I need to plan a trip to Philly!

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  4. Looking back, we tsk at the stodgy conservatism of the art establishment for missing out on genius. It's true that now there is much more appreciation for contemporary art as it's happening, but part of me wonders if it's truly an appreciation for the art itself, or if the critics and museum directors are trying desperately to avoid the pitfalls of their predecessors by unknowingly dismissing the next Picasso. I say this because I personally still cannot quite understand the appeal of, say, the Young British Artists movement of the 90's and Damian Hearst's (I think that's his name) popularity. But perhaps everyone in 50 or 100 years will be tsking at me, and commending the foresight of the others.

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    1. Googled it, and it's Damien Hirst. Pardon me.

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    2. I certainly wouldn't tsk @ you, I don't get the appeal of Hirst and company either! Good insight, BTW...

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    3. Re: modern art--still haven't got over the (British?) Museum that displayed the pedestal instead of the artwork because it was shipped separately.
      Art is whatever the cognoscenti can strongarm the public to accept. If you want to know the art's worth, you will have to wait till the PR guys are all dead or retired.
      BTW, the art here needs no advertising.

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  5. I love the "The Smoker" by Van Gogh. I was actually watching 60 Minutes a few months ago and they did a piece on the great painter's life and his last days, debunked some of the myths about him and his personality. Turns out he really loved doing portraits, he was such a lonely socially awkward man, painting portraits was his way to interact with people and calm his loneliness.

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    1. Forever Alone level: insane genius

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    2. I saw that show too ... how about the detective work on the way her died? pretty fascinating.

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  6. Love Van Gogh's paint strokes. So masterful. I got the pleasure of touring the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam - incredible.

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  7. I'm sorry to hear Renoir is demode--I prefer him to Cezanne. What is the new light that enhanced the "Leda and the Swan" portrait? I dislike its blottiness and pastel colors, so I'm interested in hearing another viewpoint.

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    1. I was just surprised because I'd never seen a mythological subject by Cezanne--i agree, it isn't particularly attractive, relatively speaking!

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