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The Barnes Foundation

Posted on Thursday, February 5, 2015

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More works of art by Cézanne, Renoir, and Matisse than any other museum in the world.

The History

After making a fortune in the pharmaceutical business, Alfred C. Barnes began his art collection in 1912 on a trip to Paris.  Barnes focused his collection on Post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings, eventually accumulating a collection of thousands of works.  His collection included the works of many artists who would later be recognized as masters including Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Henri Rousseau and Charles Demuth.  Barnes’ favorite artist however was Pierre-August Renoir; Barnes would eventually assemble a collection of 181 Renoirs, the largest collection in the world.
In 1922 he created The Barnes Foundation, creating a means for others to see his impressive collection.  Paul Crete designed a building in Merion, Pennsylvania just outside of Philadelphia to house the collection. Barnes assembled his collection in a rather unique way, covering every conceivable wall space with paintings, one hung above another, amongst antique furniture, African sculptures and Native American textiles.  The Barnes Foundation would be more than a museum however, as Barnes designed the foundation with the primary purpose of promoting the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts.  Due to the educational programs, public admission to the collection was limited to just two days a week.
The Barnes Foundation as viewed from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway
After Barnes died, a trust that he created would continue to run The Barnes Foundation indefinitely.  One of the stipulations of his trust was that the collection would forever remain located exactly where he left it, arranged in the same eccentric way he designed it.  With the inability to accommodate many paying guests however The Barnes Foundation fell into financial trouble and the decision was made to move the museum to Center City Philadelphia where the collection would be accessible to far more people. After years of legal battles, public debate and even a documentary film on the topic, the future of The Barnes Foundation was finally decided in 2004.  The Barnes Foundation would indeed move to Philadelphia on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, near other significant art museums such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum.

What to See

The Barnes Foundation's current home was designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien and completed in 2012.  Clad in fossilized limestone and topped with a brilliantly glowing horizontal column, the new building looks radically different than the original Paul Crete museum.  Inside however the actual gallery spaces were designed to replicate the scale, proportion and configuration of the original museum, allowing visitors to take in the works of art just as Barnes intended (albeit in a different location 6 miles away.)
The Barnes Foundation with the sculpture "Barnes Totem" in the foreground
Once you’re through admiring the building itself and the beautiful gardens that surround The Barnes Foundation, inside there is no shortage of works to command your attention.  Perhaps most significantly, Le bonheur de vivre by Henri Matisse is considered to be among the most significant works of early modernism.  This large and vividly colorful oil painting was so unlike anything that came before it that the painting actually caused uproar among French audiences when it was first shown in 1906.  Today it is considered a masterpiece that helped to change the course of painting at the turn of the 20th century.
Aside from Le bonheur de vivre, The Barnes Foundation contains another 58 paintings by Matisse including an enormous 45 foot long mural called The Dance II.  The mural took Matisse two years to complete and was specially designed to fit within the space of three arches above windows in the original Merion Barnes Foundation.  The interior of the new Barnes Foundation purposely recreated the same arches so visitors can continue to see the painting within the context it was intended.

Insider Tips

Now years after reopening in Philadelphia, The Barnes Foundation remains a tough ticket.  Entry to the museum can sell out days, or even weeks in advance, so it is recommended to call ahead and reserve a ticket prior to arrival.  Due to efforts to recreate the original gallery spaces, many of the galleries are too modest in size to accommodate a large group of people.  For that reason tickets to the museum are timed, so be sure to arrive at your scheduled time.  If you are unsure of when you’ll arrive you can also purchase “anytime tickets.”  While these tickets offer more flexibility they will also cost a premium price.  If you know when you’ll arrive, save some money and purchase tickets for a specific time.
The Barnes Foundation

How to Get There

Guests of The Constitutional Bus Tour will get the opportunity to see The Barnes Foundation on their tour.  Tours can also be arranged so that bus tours can begin or end at The Barnes Foundation.  Guests of The Constitutional Walking Tour can walk from the National Constitution Center in about a half an hour by walking west on Arch St. until making a right onto the Benjamin Franklin Parkway where The Barnes Foundation is located.  Guests can also utilize the 48 Septa Bus that stops in front of the National Constitution Center to get to The Barnes Foundation.  The Barnes Foundation also offers valet parking and has a nearby parking lot, making driving an easy option.


Monday 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Tuesday Closed
Wednesday 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Thursday 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Friday 10:00 am – 9:00 pm
Saturday 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Sunday 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
(Note: these hours are subject to change, and you may want to contact The Barnes Foundation to confirm)

Additional Information

2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19130

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