Art Collection Information Records

Summary Information

Barnes Foundation Archives
The Barnes Foundation
Art Collection Information Records
1.25 Linear feet
This collection consists of notes, lists, inventories, conservation information, and letters of authentication for works in the Barnes Foundation’s art collection. There is also a small amount of information on artists and artworks not in the Foundation collection.

Preferred Citation

[Description of item], [date]. Art Collection Information Records, Barnes Foundation Archives, Philadelphia, PA. Reprinted with permission.

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Administrative History

The Barnes Foundation’s art collection was assembled by Albert C. (Coombs) Barnes (1872 – 1951), a chemist and entrepreneur whose interest in education led him to found the Barnes Foundation in 1922. Dedicated to “the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts,” the Foundation houses a world-renowned collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early Modern paintings, African artworks, and early American decorative arts and crafts. For nearly forty years, Barnes painstakingly built a collection intended to teach viewers the relation between the visual elements present in all artwork, regardless of historical period or origin.

Barnes made his fortune with the invention of the antiseptic Argyrol, and held his first classes in philosophy and aesthetics in his factory. He began collecting art seriously in 1912, when he sent his friend William Glackens to Paris on art buying trip. Glackens bought thirty-three works of art, at least sixteen of which remain in the collection today. Barnes continued to collect and to refine his theories of education in the teens and twenties, influenced by his friendship with the Progressive philosopher John Dewey, and culminating in the creation of the Foundation in 1922. The same year he sold his art collection to the Foundation for the nominal fee of $1 and embarked a new experiment in art and education. To better communicate various artistic traditions, Barnes constantly sought new additions to the collection, and was often at the vanguard of modernist taste, essentially creating the market for Chaim Soutine’s work when he bought fifty-two of the artist’s works in late 1922. With each new purchase, Barnes rearranged the way paintings were hung in the Gallery to better suit his educational programs. Instructions accompanying new purchases were often sent back to the Gallery in Merion while Barnes was overseas, a feat that required a prodigious visual memory as well as a finely honed aesthetic sense.

Barnes also supported the educational program with a series of publications, beginning with An Approach to Art by Mary Mullen in 1923, and followed by  The Art in Painting by Barnes in 1925. He co-authored a further four books with Foundation teacher Violette de Mazia on the subjects of the French Primitives, Matisse, Renoir, and Cézanne. These projects required the collation of massive amounts of information by half a dozen staff members. It may have been the need for workable indexes to information that produced a portion of the collection described below.

In the 1930s, Barnes became increasingly interested in American decorative arts and fine crafts, and purchased Native American rugs, pots, and silverwork, and early American antiques in all mediums, including furniture, ironwork, textiles, glass, and ceramics. A selection of these objects were incorporated into the ensembles in the Gallery, and many more were ensconced at Ker-Feal, an eighteenth-century farmhouse in Chester County that Barnes purchased in 1940. In his will, dated 1944, Barnes stated that Ker-Feal was to be “a living museum of art . . . used as part of the educational purposes of the Barnes Foundation.” At the time of his death on July 24, 1951, Ker-Feal became the property of the Barnes Foundation, and all previous gifts to the Foundation were affirmed. As part of the terms of the original indenture, upon Barnes’s death the art collection in the Gallery became static, with no acquisitions, deaccessions, or loans permitted. The current display of the gallery walls preserves the arrangement that existed in 1951.

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Scope and Content

The collection information records consist of various inventories, lists, and notes relating to the works in the Barnes Foundation art collection. There are copies of letters of authentication and provenance for some works, and instructions for the conservation of various objects that give insight into historical conservation practices at the Foundation. Handwritten instructions from Dr. Barnes, specifying how the artworks in the Gallery were to be rearranged to accommodate new purchases, shed light on his collecting practices and on the underlying pedagogical purpose of the ensembles. Some inventories document the existence of photographic negatives and prints. There is also a small amount of information on artists and artworks not in the Foundation collection, including information on works belonging to Violette de Mazia sold at auction after her death in 1988, and information on various artists and artworks perhaps related to works offered for sale.

While this collection provides a rich, detailed look at the art collection as it changed through time, the information it contains is nonetheless fragmentary and occasionally factually mistaken. For example, the small brass plaques in this collection were removed from artwork and objects in the 1990s and reflect earlier, now-contested attributions. Current art collection information, the result of modern scholarship and research undertaken as part of the Collections Assessment Project that began at the Foundation in 2001, resides in the registrar’s office and with curatorial staff.

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This collection is arranged chronologically.

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Barnes Foundation Archives 2009

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research to qualified researchers by appointment only. Please contact the Archives and Library Department for information on access and research.

Use Restrictions

The Barnes Foundation Art Collection Information Records are the physical property of The Barnes Foundation Archives. The Foundation holds literary rights only for material created by staff of the Foundation and material given to the Foundation with such rights specifically assigned. For all other material, literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. Researchers are responsible for determining the identity of rights holders and obtaining their permission for publication and for other purposes where stated.

Acquisition Information

These records were housed in the Barnes Foundation’s administration building storage area.

Processed By

Adrienne Pruitt. Finding aid written by Adrienne Pruitt, June 2009.

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Related Materials

Related Collections

  • Albert C. Barnes Correspondence. Barnes Foundation Archives, Philadelphia, PA.
  • Barnes Foundation Financial Records. Barnes Foundation Archives, Philadelphia, PA.

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

  • The Barnes Foundation


  • Card files
  • Correspondence
  • Inventories
  • Notes
  • Plaques (flat objects)

Geographic Name(s)

  • Lower Merion (Pa. : Township)
  • Merion (Pa.)

Personal Name(s)

  • Barnes, Albert C. (Coombs), 1872–1951
  • Buermeyer, Laurence, 1889–1970
  • De Mazia, Violette, 1899–1988
  • Geiger, Laura V.
  • Jenney, Philip, 1906–1983
  • Mullen, Mary, 1875-1957
  • Mullen, Nelle E., 1884-1967
  • Nulty, Albert H., 1886–1957
  • Stine, Cynthia Flannery, 1908–1967


  • Art--Documentation

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A boxlist is available in the repository.

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