Review of the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia: One of the Best Art Museums in the World
Philadelphia is a city filled with fantastic art museums. From large museums like the Philadelphia Museum of Art to smaller venues like the Magic Gardens, there’s a ton of great places for art lovers to explore in Philly. However, without a doubt, one of the best, if not the best, art museum in the city is the Barnes Museum.
The Barnes Museum is the private collection of self-made millionaire Albert C. Barnes. Starting 1912, Barnes began collecting art from European masters and eventually amassed one of the world’s greatest collections of art.
Today, the Barnes Museum is most notable for its 181 paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the largest single collection of his work in the world. However, it also features 69 paintings by Paul Cézanne, 59 by Henry Matisse, and 46 by Pablo Picasso, as well as paintings by other well-known artists.
All told the museum features more than 900 world-class paintings and 4,000 total objects. It’s been estimated that the entire collection is valued at $25 billion dollars.
The Barnes Museum first opened to the public in 1922 in the Philly suburb of Merion where it would stay until 2012. Today, it is located along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City Philadelphia.
During his life, Barnes would move paintings around his 23-room museum to highlight different themes and as he added new works. However, at his death, his will stipulated that his paintings must be kept “in exactly the places they are.”
Because of this, the paintings are scattered throughout the museum and not organized by painter, date, or even style. Instead, they are organized in ways that interested Barnes.
His way of displaying the paintings also means that even small rooms can feature dozens of fantastic paintings. In fact, one of my favorite of the smaller rooms contained more than a dozen Picasso paintings, in addition to many others from artists such as Matisse.
Since the museum’s paintings and artwork must be left exactly as they were when Barnes died, there are no labels with information on each of the paintings (though some do have the name of the artist on the frame).
However, each room in the Barnes Museum features a guide that tells a bit of information about each the name and artist for each piece of art. Make sure to pick up these guides as you enter each room so that you can understand a bit more about each of these amazing paintings.
In addition to hundreds of some of the most amazing and well-known paintings in the world, the museum is also home to a collection of early American furniture, African wood carvings, and Native American art. These pieces add an interesting diversity to the collection and show Barnes’ great eye for different genres of art.
My favorite part of the museum was simply walking through the 23 rooms and marveling at the amazing pieces of art here. Even if you aren’t someone that loves art museums, the Barnes is worth a visit as it’s easily one of the most amazing art museums in the entire world.
Also great was the HBO documentary “The Collector,” which tells about the life of Albert Barnes and how he came to amass his great collection. The film is shown is a small room near the ticket counter, which is very easy to miss. If possible, see the film before touring the museum as it will give you a great overview of the history of the Barnes Museum and an appreciation for its collection.
While it might lack the size and variety of the nearby Philadelphia Museum of Art, there’s no question that the quality of the collection is easily on par with its neighboring institution and an equal among the greatest art museums in the world.
Make sure to put the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia on your bucket list.
Note: My visit to the Barnes Museum was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Hours: Daily: 11a-5p
Cost: Adults: $30, Children: Free
Address: 2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy
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Jim Cheney is the creator of UncoveringPA.com. Based in the state capital of Harrisburg, Jim frequently travels around Pennsylvania and has visited, written about, and photographed all 67 counties in the state. He has also traveled to more than 30 different countries around the world.