Day 69-70: Philadelphia’s Grand Museums

Today we started at the Barnes Foundation Collection. Barnes was a wealthy patron of the arts and kept his artwork in very specific positions in his mansion. When he died in 1951, he intended the artwork kept in his home to be available to the public. However, after many legal battles, the Foundation succeeded at moving the collection. The new building, designed by Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, was opened in 2012. You can read about the history here:

While I was unable to take photographs of the paintings on display, my notes included the following features:

All the modern impressionists and classical painters were represented, with a wealth of Renoirs, Cezannes, and Matisses.

I made a point to learn about new painters whose names I did not previously recognize. I chose Jules Pascin, an American and Bulgarian painter. Another was Chaim Soutine, a Russian who was active in France between 1893-1943. One of my favorites was of a young pastry chef. Barnes bought over 50 of Soutine’s works. John Kane, whose work Barnes seemed to favor, was an American who painted lovely American scenes.

Barnes accumulated so many paintings that he was able to display work by painters influenced by earlier painters side by side. He intentionally placed these works adjacent to each other. It was very challenging to view the art as you were required to consider why the paintings were juxtaposed to each other.  A main piece was placed in the center of a wall flanked by other smaller similar pieces. Greater variety was created by placing portraits adjacent to landscapes to vary the scale and context, so your mind is actively bouncing back and forth between these paintings as well as painting styles.

In addition to variety in scale, content, and size, unrelated pieces such as an artist’s work from other parts of the world were interspersed throughout the collection. I found the small naive New Mexico panel paintings by Jose Aragon (1796-1862) an interesting contrast to those of much more sophisticated European artists. Chinese paintings from the Ching Dynasty were also injected over other Western paintings. The usual overload of styles from the same artist or period was broken by this approach. It was a clever way to provide relief and maintain interest.

Furnishings and decorative arts were also placed under or over paintings. Barnes claimed that a hinge was as worthy of being appreciated as a work of art as a major painting. Initially you are aghast at the display of so many items on one wall, but eventually you realize that the density and intensity has a purpose and meaning to it.

In the afternoon, we took a tour of the Surrealist collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art that included pieces from Dali, Man Ray, and Picasso. The Surrealists moved from the Cubists’ physical description of space and added psychological interpretations. They attempted to depict dreams and drew from ideas posed by Freud and Jung.

At the tail end of the day, I made my way to see the Asian art collection that Gee Kin and I saw over 30 years ago on our first visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I remembered the incredible Ming Scholars’ Room and the Japanese Teahouse, which are shown below. At that time, I had not appreciated the wonderful Tang musicians, horsemen, and camel figures in the collection. I first saw them along the Silk Road in Dunhuang last year (see 2014 posts in September, 2014). I enjoyed returning to this venerable institution a second time to discover these ancient treasures.

Text for French Courtyard in featured image above:

After traveling from Philadelphia to Washinton DC, are about to embark on our first overnight journey. We won’t be stopping in DC except to transfer to the Capitol Ltd. to Chicago. Stay tuned for a big itinerary and lots of fun ahead!

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