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“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” —John Dewey

Our Research

Education is key to everything we do at the Barnes, and our research program lies at the heart of that mission. Like Dr. Barnes, we believe that the study of works of art matters beyond academic circles—it is a catalyst for cultural awareness. Our work honors his innovative and experimental approach to education, building a hub for a diverse Philadelphia community and the basis for a lifelong creative classroom.

Research into our diverse collection of more than 3,000 objects often starts with a look at the life of the object, revealed by art historical investigations and advanced technical analysis. That work allows us to build up to bigger questions about how objects were used in the past and how they can help us make meaning of our lives in the present. Our research is carried out by a talented team of scholars, curators, conservators, and educators. We invite you to join us in these explorations.

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Current Collection Projects

Picasso at the Barnes

Is there anything new to uncover about the art of Pablo Picasso? In an oeuvre that has been endlessly scrutinized, theorized, and contextualized, the little-studied Picasso collection at the Barnes presents a rare opportunity to examine the artist’s production from the first decades of the 20th century with a fresh perspective. A collaboration between our conservation and research teams, this project integrates technical analysis with historical documentation and critical inquiry to catalogue, for the first time, all 46 Picassos in the collection.

Research fellow Naina Saligram and the Barnes painting conservation staff, in partnership with art historian Christopher Green, seek to understand these objects in terms of their construction as much as their social contexts, histories of ownership and display, and place in Picasso’s career. The works are being studied using X-radiography, infrared reflectography, and X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to investigate the artist’s materials and techniques, including his practice of reworking compositions. Other interests include Dr. Barnes’s purchases from the Kahnweiler sequestration sales and the reciprocity between painting and drawing in Picasso’s approach to figuration.

We welcome questions and insights on our Picasso holdings and look forward to connecting with scholars and institutions to share findings from our research.

Pablo Picasso. Young Acrobat, 1905. BF72. © 2024 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Christine Romano (left) and Naina Saligram study Picasso’s Glass and Packet of Cigarettes (BF200).

Greek and Roman Antiquities at the Barnes

In the 1920s, when Dr. Barnes was building his collection of modern paintings and African art, he was also buying ancient Greek and Roman objects spanning the eighth century BCE to the third century CE. Letters and receipts in the Barnes archives help us understand how many of these vases, figurines, and sculptural fragments came to be in the collection, and from which dealers Dr. Barnes acquired them.

But, of course, we also want to know the earlier histories and archaeological contexts for each object. Was it found in Greece or Italy? In a temple or a tomb? Context is essential for understanding ancient art; though a painted Greek vase may look beautiful in a gallery, we can gain a much richer understanding of its significance when we know where it came from and how it was used. Unfortunately, this kind of information is lacking when it comes to the Barnes antiquities. Dealers in the early 20th century were more concerned with the aesthetic value of ancient art than where it was discovered.

Postdoctoral research fellow Madeleine Glennon and the Barnes object conservation staff are studying the Barnes’s Greek and Roman antiquities and reconstructing their original archaeological contexts. We may not know exactly when or where a Greek vase was created and eventually discovered, but figuring out where it fits within the history of ancient art and archaeology will add invaluable texture to its story before it entered the Barnes collection.

Unidentified artist. Head of Young Girl, 3rd–1st century BCE. A56

Madeleine Glennon (left) and Margaret Little examine a Roman statue (A66).

Medieval Art at the Barnes

“We can see the art of the present only by learning to see the art of the past,” Dr. Barnes wrote in The Art in Painting. It’s no surprise, then, that he collected hundreds of premodern objects from around the world, including over 150 medieval paintings, sculptures, and decorative pieces from Europe, Asia, and Africa. Barnes research associate Amy Gillette is looking closely at this understudied collection. Drawing inspiration from Dr. Barnes’s progressive thinking, she is engaging a variety of approaches in her work, including social history and philosophy. This includes identifying and interpreting two sets of manuscript miniatures made for nuns, a pair of decorated iron bands that seem to trace to the church of St-Béat in southern France, and a music-making angel by Gherardo Starnina from the Certosa of Galluzzo near Florence. Gillette’s research also explores the role of medieval art in Dr. Barnes’s thinking about modernism, and in the educational program that he developed with John Dewey.

Nicolás Solano. Saint Katherine of Alexandria before the Roman Emperor, early 15th century. BF872

Amy Gillette with medieval manuscript miniatures in Room 16.

Rousseau at the Barnes

Art historian Christopher Green and Barnes chief curator Nancy Ireson are working with the Barnes painting conservation staff to understand Henri Rousseau’s paintings in terms of their construction as much as their social contexts, histories of ownership and display, and place in the artist’s career. The 18 paintings by Rousseau in the collection are being studied using X-radiography, infrared reflectography, and X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to investigate the artist’s materials and techniques, including his practice of reworking compositions.

Henri Rousseau. Portrait of a Woman in a Landscape, c. 1893–96. BF260. Public Domain.

X-radiograph of Portrait of a Woman in a Landscape revealing an earlier portrait on the canvas.

Past Projects

Ancient Egypt at the Barnes

Tucked in cases and hanging between paintings in the Barnes galleries are a small number of Egyptian antiquities, which represent the oldest objects in the collection. Acquired by Dr. Barnes largely from dealers in Paris, these artifacts include bronze statuettes, stone reliefs, coffins, and other items that were highly sought after by museums and private collectors in the early 20th century. For a hundred years, these fascinating objects have lived in the Barnes galleries, cast into a dialogue with works of art from around the globe. But what about their original contexts? Where did these pieces come from, and how were they used by the people who made them?

These were some of the questions explored by postdoctoral research fellow and Egyptologist Carl Walsh and the Barnes object conservation staff, who jointly studied the collection’s Egyptian antiquities from 2020 to 2023. The project led to many fascinating discoveries, from tracing a looted wall relief back to a now-lost Egyptian temple to uncovering a modern forgery of a glass cow.

Unidentified artist. Fragment of the coffin of Tantwenemherti, 1075–712 BCE. BF468

Carl Walsh (left) and Margaret Little examine an Egyptian coffin fragment.


The Barnes Foundation gratefully acknowledges its generous supporters who, through farsighted endowments and vital annual program funding, enable robust scholarship, access to rare and important library holdings and institutional records, renowned special exhibitions, collections care and research, and field-leading publications, among other initiatives.

Second Century Campaign and Endowment Donors

Annenberg Foundation
Mellon Foundation
Neubauer Family Foundation
Agnes Gund
The Gordon and Llura Gund Foundation

Center for Innovation in Curatorial Scholarship
The Aileen K. and Brian L. Roberts Foundation
Tom and Margaret Lehr Whitford
Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz
Lois and Julian Brodsky
Gloria and John Drosdick
Christine and George Henisee
Comcast NBCUniversal
Katie Adams Schaeffer and Tony Schaeffer
Christine and Michael Angelakis

Knight Center for Digital Innovation in Audience Engagement
Knight Foundation
Betsy Z. and Edward E. Cohen

Center for Innovation in Conservation and Scientific Analysis
The Pew Charitable Trusts

Annual Program Donors

Institute of Museum and Library Services
Wind Innovation Fund
The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation
Marjorie Ogilvie and Miller Parker*

*posthumous recognition