The unconventional and distinctively symmetrical wall compositions at the Barnes Foundation are known as “ensembles.” Barnes’s aim was to demonstrate the continuity of artistic tradition and the universality of the impulse for creative expression, so he mixed art and craft across cultures and periods. He constantly experimented with the display of his collection, arranging and rearranging the works according to the formal principles of light, line, color, and space, which he regarded as the universal building blocks of art, rather than by chronology, nationality, style, or genre, the traditional museum divisions. Sometimes, Barnes’s alterations were driven by new acquisitions and trades. He also changed the ensembles—the focus of an educational program emphasizing direct visual experience—to provoke new insights and conversations for Foundation faculty and students.
The installation that you see today is the one that was in place when Barnes died in 1951.