A HOME FOR ART: Inside the spectacular new Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia

The Barnes Foundation's new Philadelphia campus on Opening Night.  Photo by Doreen Creede.

Imagine you've been invited to the new home of a famous art collector.  In a few days thousands will come to see the place at a round-the-clock open house, but right now you're one of a small group invited for a private tour.  Controversy and litigation have swirled around this building for a decade, and you've had some mixed feelings about it yourself.  When you arrive protestors stand at the curb, polite but angry still; car horns blare; a bus storms by. The million things you should have done today clatter around your brain as you step inside the gates, round a steel totem and begin a walk down an allee of red maples beside a reflecting pool.  And, step by step, the outside world falls away, and a serene calm washes over you.

Entryway on Opening Night.  Photo by Doreen Creede.

By the time you pass over a bridge to the entryway you're smitten.  Inside the warm modernism continues: an entrance hall scaled to welcome, not overwhelm; a "light court" that soars but does not make you feel small; a dramatic terrace that juts into the city's parkway yet has the feel of an outdoor room, complete with fireplace.

Inside the Barnes Foundation Philadelphia galleries, Media Day Preview.  Photo by Doreen Creede.

Then you arrive at the galleries.  Here the art has been hung in wall collages, an arrangement you see all the time now on decorating blogs.  Except in these wall collages the art's by Matisse, Cezanne, Renoir, Picasso, Glackens, El Greco, Modigliani, van Gogh, Rousseau.  And the arrangement has been created by a man who spent his life collecting, curating and arranging the 3,000 works with intense deliberation, purpose and originality, all with the goal that you see, truly see, each painting.

And you do.  With astonishment and wonder, you do.

A legendary collection displayed in arrangements nearly as famous as the art.  Photos by Doreen Creede.

That man was Dr. Albert C. Barnes and the building is the new Philadelphia home of The Barnes Foundation. In his will, Barnes bequeathed his collection (which in its entirety numbers 9,000 works, including post-impressionists, early modern, African sculpture, Native American ceramics, Pennsylvania German furniture, wrought iron objects and old master paintings -- possibly the most stunning individual collection of art on earth) with the stipulation that the works remain as arranged at the time of his death in 1951.  In the 1990s Foundation trustees and Philadelphia civic and city leaders decided that to save the Foundation financially and to better share this collection with the world, the art should be moved from suburban Merion to center city Philadelphia.  A contentious legal battle ensued.  Press materials from the foundation state that the will dictated an intact arrangement, not a geographic location (a point I'd never heard while following the decade of controversy surrounding the move) and in 2004 they won their case.

And last week, in a full day Media preview on Wednesday and then an evening at the Friday night Opening Gala I got an advance peek inside the Barnes' new Philadelphia campus, met its architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, and landscape architect Laurie Olin and took a guided tour from the foundation's executive director, Derek Gillman.  If that sounds amazing, it was.  Most amazing, though, was that at several times during these visits I was, with the exception of a security guard, the only person in a gallery room, completely surrounded and saturated by masterpieces of such depth that even a van Gogh gets stuck in the corner slot.

Some photos from these previews were shared last week on the Style Maniac Facebook Page.  This post shows additional pics of the building and art both day and night in its spectacular yet warmly inviting new home.

Above:  an astounding collection of art, including works by Cezanne, El Greco, Glackens, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Rousseau, Seurat, Soutine, van Gogh, and more.  Photos by Doreen Creede.

Barnes Philadelphia landscape architect Laurie Olin (right) and his wife in front of Cezanne's The Card Players at the Opening Night Gala.  Olin said the feeling of decompression and relaxation I felt upon entering was intentional: a "mood tube" designed to calm you down and prepare you for the intensity of the art collection.

Photo by Doreen Creede.

Architects Billie Tsien and Tod Williams balanced civic and domestic qualities in their sustainable design for the Barnes Foundation's new Philadelphia campus. A simple "Gallery in a garden, garden in a gallery" concept won them the commission, which included the stipulation that the Merion galleries be duplicated to the exact millimeter.  Photo by Doreen Creede  from the Opening Night Gala.

The Barnes Foundation

Philadelphia Campus

2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Philadelphia, PA19147



The Barnes Foundation Philadelphia will be open free to the public round-the-clock this Memorial Day weekend.  All 56 hours have been reserved, but you can also visit free First Sunday of the month during opening year, thanks to a sponsorship by PECO. And adult tickets cost just $18, an incredible bargain. To maintain the intimate experience on all days entry is by timed tickets. In June a Friday evening cocktails and music series on the terrace begins (open to the public but museum entrance additional), and in the fall the Foundation's world-renown classes will be held directly in the galleries.  The original Merion location, with an arboretum, horticulture program and library and the institution's archives re-opens late this summer.

All photos by Doreen Creede.

"Use the good china for breakfast."