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Decoding Barnes’s Ensembles

Online / Barnes Method

Thursdays, November 9 – December 7, 2 – 4pm


Ensemble view, Room 15, south wall, Philadelphia. © The Barnes Foundation

$220; members $198
(4 classes, no class November 23)

About the Class

In arranging his collection into groupings called “ensembles,” Albert Barnes disrupted traditional historical and geographic boundaries to focus on the commonalities between fine art and everyday objects. In the ensembles, paintings, metalwork, furniture, ceramics, and textiles are placed side by side in unexpected and surprising ways. Dr. Barnes designed these groupings as teaching tools—and they are still as enigmatic and enlightening to us now as they were in the early 20th century. In this online class, we will explore the ensembles and try to unlock their mysteries.

The class is online-only. More about online classes.

Barnes classes will:

  • Increase your understanding of art-related concepts.
  • Increase the ways you think critically about art.
  • Improve your ability to communicate about art.
  • Deepen your appreciation for cultures and histories outside your own.


William Perthes

Perthes is the Bernard C. Watson Director of Adult Education at the Barnes. He has taught courses at the Barnes as well as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and West Chester and Villanova Universities. His scholarship focuses on American modernism and the abstract expressionist painter Robert Motherwell.

Barnes Method

Barnes Method courses follow the teachings of Albert Barnes and Violette de Mazia. Classes focus on rigorous formal analysis and direct visual engagement with works of art. In this method, close looking at art helps build critical-thinking skills that can be carried beyond the gallery walls.

Recent Barnes Class Testimonials

“[The] professor was highly engaging, facilitated excellent discussions, and [was] very knowledgeable. I learned a lot about teaching art history from watching her.” Matisse and Picasso with Martha Lucy

“The instructor [was] very empathetic and knowledgeable [and] created moments of sharing across students who participated actively in discussion.” Art and Literature of the Harlem Renaissance with Michael Williamson

“I am not an artist and prior to this course I had not thought about what an artist might be 'thinking,' as opposed to 'feeling.' I loved this course and plan to immerse myself in color theory.” Visualizing Memory with Lucas Kelly

“The instructor was exceptionally well prepared and challenged us with profound questions. This was a graduate degree caliber course.” The Queer 1890s with Ty Vanover