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The Barnes Foundation Announces the Launch of Digitized Dr. Albert C. Barnes Correspondence

Dr. Barnes’s correspondence with John Dewey and Leo Stein now accessible online

Philadelphia, PA, May 11, 2023—The Barnes Foundation has announced that the complete correspondence of Albert C. Barnes is now fully digitized. The Barnes will publish the material in batches, beginning with the correspondence between Dr. Barnes and two of his most important confidants: philosopher John Dewey, and art critic and collector Leo Stein.

This digitization and access project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Additional support is provided by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and Marjorie Ogilvie and Miller Parker. Initiatives in technology at the Barnes are supported by the Knight Center for Digital Innovation in Audience Engagement, Betsy Z. and Edward E. Cohen, and the Wind Innovation Fund.

With more than 141,000 items in total, the Albert C. Barnes Correspondence collection holds materials spanning from 1902—two decades before the chartering of the Barnes Foundation—until Dr. Barnes’s death in 1951 and consists of over 125 linear feet of letters, cards, notes, telegrams, and enclosures such as mailing lists, invoices, lecture notes, song sheets, postcards, invitations, exhibition catalogues, drawings, pamphlets, legal papers, news clippings, recipes, and photographs. Dr. Barnes’s correspondence documents the creation of his world-renowned art collection and a progressive educational program that led to the establishment of the Barnes Foundation in 1922. It contains lively exchanges with dealers, artists, critics, and collectors, including several important historical figures who influenced Dr. Barnes’s personal philosophy and the Barnes Foundation itself. These include philosopher John Dewey; art dealer Paul Guillaume; writer and philosophical leader of the Harlem Renaissance, Alain Locke; artists Henri Matisse and Georgia O’Keeffe; and author and art collector Leo Stein. Dr. Barnes retained carbon copies of his letters, which allows for the valuable opportunity to read the exchange of dialogue.

The John Dewey and Leo Stein correspondences are among the most frequently referenced by researchers and were therefore chosen to be the inaugural offering of archival digital content. The next correspondences that will be added are those with architect Paul Cret and art dealer Paul Guillaume. Also launching online later this year is a digital version of an on-site archival exhibition, Education and Empowerment: Scholarship Recipients at the Barnes Foundation, 1927-1949. The archival exhibition will explore the relationships of Dr. Barnes and the institution itself with art historian Paul B. Moses as well as artist Aaron Douglas, musician Ablyne Lockhart, and Dr. DeHaven Hinkson—all of whom received funding to further their academic pursuits.

“As we enter the Barnes’s second century, we have recommitted to extending the reach and impact of the knowledge we create and investing in original research into the collection and our institution’s history,” says Thom Collins, Neubauer Family Executive Director and President. “Paramount among our strategic priorities is producing digital initiatives designed to make fresh historical and art-historical content more accessible to audiences. This archives digitization and access project will be an extraordinary resource for researchers, scholars, and students working across a broad range of disciplines, including art history, philosophy, aesthetics, American social history, African American culture, the history of education, and the history of museums.”

“We are thrilled that this important resource of primary source material is now available to scholars and general audiences all over the world,” says Amanda McKnight, Director of Archives, Library & Special Collections. “Although the Barnes has always made every effort to assist scholars who are unable to travel to visit the archives, the primary mode of viewing the material was in person by appointment. Now we can provide digital copies of the files from the Albert C. Barnes Correspondence quickly and efficiently. Also, we’re now able to create online versions of the archival exhibitions we display on-site so a wider audience can experience them.”

To increase accessibility, the digitized files were processed using optical character recognition (OCR) technology, which enables the files to be searchable and, for those who rely on screen readers and other assistive technologies, makes the document functional and navigable. As the aspiration is to have as much of the material as accessible as possible, efforts to include transcriptions of handwritten material are ongoing.

Further information about the John Dewey and Leo Stein correspondences are included below. More information about the Spotlights and the Dear Dr. Barnes: Digitizing, Interpreting, and Disseminating the Albert C. Barnes Correspondence project is available here. For further details about the Barnes Archives, Library & Special Collections, please visit our website.

The John Dewey Correspondence (1917–51)

John Dewey (1859–1952) was an American philosopher known for his theories regarding democracy and education in the United States. He worked as a professor at the University of Chicago and Columbia University and produced dozens of published books and articles, including several in collaboration with Dr. Barnes.

The correspondence between Dr. Barnes and Dewey began in the fall of 1917, when Barnes enrolled in one of Dewey’s postgraduate seminars at Columbia, and ended only with Barnes’s death in 1951. Within months of their first letters, Dewey would become a repeat visitor at the Barnes’s residence, and Barnes a frequent guest of Dewey’s in New York City. As their correspondence continued, Barnes’s educational philosophy took shape under Dewey’s guidance. Their correspondence spans decades and topics, covering Dewey’s role in advising Barnes on instructors and collaborators for the Foundation, their multiple trips across the country and globe together, and their occasionally differing views on art and aesthetics. Although Barnes is well known for his arguments with powerful public figures—many of which are documented in this collection—the Dewey correspondence shows another side of the collector, open to persuasion and compromise and invested in a genuine lifelong friendship.

The Leo Stein Correspondence (1912–47)

Leo Stein (1872–1947) was an American author, art collector, and critic. In 1903 he moved to Paris with his younger sister, the author and poet Gertrude Stein, where the two entertained the likes of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway in their apartment-turned-gallery. In 1912, Dr. Barnes was among their guests, sparking a correspondence with Leo that would last more than 30 years. Their correspondence shows the development and evolution of Dr. Barnes’s artistic tastes and traces the often tumultuous professional and personal relationship between the strong-willed men. Although Barnes’s respect for Stein is evident early on in their extended conversations about the merits of various painters and styles, the two also disagree animatedly on that and a variety of other topics. Their correspondence also documents many of the purchases of artwork made by Stein on Barnes’s behalf, illustrating how central Stein was to the development of the Barnes collection. Despite their occasionally vitriolic disputes, after Stein’s death, Barnes wrote to his wife, Nina: “It is safe to say that my talks with [Leo] in the early days were the most important factor in determining my activities in the art world that have continued ever since.”

The Barnes Foundation’s Archives, Honickman Library & Special Collections provide scholars and visitors access to important resources relating to the Barnes’s history and collection. The Honickman Library is home to over 9,000 books, periodicals, databases, and other resources on art history—especially 19th- and 20th-century artistic movements—art education, visual literacy, philosophy, psychology, and art conservation. The archives include documents related to the institution’s development, correspondence from significant figures in its history, and rare books, pamphlets, and exhibition catalogues.

The digitization and access project Dear Dr. Barnes: Digitizing, Interpreting, and Disseminating the Albert C. Barnes Correspondence was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Additional support is provided by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and Marjorie Ogilvie and Miller Parker.

Initiatives in technology at the Barnes are supported by the Knight Center for Digital Innovation in Audience Engagement, Betsy Z. and Edward E. Cohen, and the Wind Innovation Fund.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. IMLS envisions a nation where individuals and communities have access to museums and libraries to learn from and be inspired by the trusted information, ideas, and stories they contain about our diverse natural and cultural heritage. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Barnes Foundation is a nonprofit cultural and educational institution that shares its unparalleled art collection with the public, organizes special exhibitions, and presents programming that fosters new ways of thinking about human creativity. The Barnes collection is displayed in ensembles that integrate art and objects from across cultures and time periods, overturning traditional hierarchies and revealing universal elements of human expression. Home to one of the world’s finest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and modern paintings—including the largest groups of paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Paul Cézanne in existence—the Barnes brings together renowned canvases by Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and Vincent van Gogh, alongside African, Asian, ancient, medieval, and Native American art as well as metalwork, furniture, and decorative art.

The Barnes Foundation was established by Dr. Albert C. Barnes in 1922 to “promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts and horticulture.” A visionary collector and pioneering educator, Dr. Barnes was also a fierce advocate for the civil rights of African Americans, women, and the economically marginalized. Committed to racial equality and social justice, he established a scholarship program to support young Black artists, writers, and musicians who wanted to further their education. Dr. Barnes was deeply interested in African American culture and became actively involved in the Harlem Renaissance, during which he collaborated with philosopher Alain Locke and Charles S. Johnson, the scholar and activist, to promote awareness of the artistic value of African art.

Since moving to Philadelphia in 2012, the Barnes Foundation has expanded its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and social justice, teaching visual literacy in groundbreaking ways; investing in original scholarship relating to its collection; and enhancing accessibility throughout every facet of its programs.

The Barnes Foundation is situated in Lenapehoking, the ancestral homeland of the Lenape people. Read our Land Acknowledgment.

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Deirdre Maher, Director of Communications
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