Barnes Foundation Embraces Open Access, Making Half of Its Art Collection Available Online

The art collection at Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation just got a little easier to see. The museum has announced a new Open Access program that will provide unprecedented access to its holdings by publishing over half of its objects online.

Best-known for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, the museum’s holdings also include early Modern paintings, Old Masters, Native American fine crafts, and early American furniture and decorative art. Now, thanks to Open Access, 2,081 of the Barnes’s 4,021 objects have been published online. Of those, there are high-resolution images of 1,429 works available for download in the public domain.

It’s a big step for a museum that as recently as 1991 hadn’t published any color imagery of its holdings. The institution, established in 1951, was founded by eccentric art collector Alfred C. Barnes (1872–1951), who drew up strict rules for how the museum would be run.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Before the Bath (Avant le bain), c. 1875. Courtesy of the Barnes Collection.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Before the Bath (Avant le bain), c. 1875. Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.

The Barnes Foundation has also become more physically accessible in recent years, moving in 2012 from a 12-acre property in Merion, Pennsylvania, to a centrally located downtown facility. This required altering Barnes’s original trust indenture, which stated that the “paintings shall remain in exactly the places they are at the time of the death of donor.” Tod Williams of Billie Tsien Architects designed the museum’s new home to replicate perfectly the layout of its original building.

A ban on color photography wasn’t part of Barnes’s original vision, but according to museum archivist Barbara Beaucar, he was very unhappy with the color images of some of his works that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1942.

Hugh Mesibov, Byzantine Figure (1945–1946). Courtesy of the Barnes Collection.

Hugh Mesibov, Byzantine Figure (1945–1946). Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.

“They appear garish—a result of the four color separation process that was used in magazine and newspaper reproduction,” said Beucar in the Open Access announcement. “Dr. Barnes was not so much against color photography, but felt that the methods of reproduction of color photographs were not advanced enough.”

Color reproduction of the collection was therefore prohibited for decades until the museum agreed in 1991 to release a series of books on the collection with publisher Alfred A. Knopf. “It’s about time,” an anonymous scholar told the New York Times at the time. “Good color printing has been around long enough that it should have been permitted a long time ago.”

The museum believes that the first color photos of the collection were printed in Great French Paintings From the Barnes Foundation: Impressionist, Post-impressionist, and Early Modern by Knopf in 1995.

See more images available through Barnes Foundation’s Open Access program below.

Unidentified artist, Saint Catherine of Alexandria (15th century). Courtesy of the Barnes Collection.

Unidentified artist, Saint Catherine of Alexandria (15th century). Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.

Giorgio de Chirico, The Arrival (La meditazione del pomeriggio), 1912–1913. Courtesy of the Barnes Collection.

Giorgio de Chirico, The Arrival (La meditazione del pomeriggio), 1912–1913. Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, <em>Bathing Group</em> (1916). Courtesy of the Barnes Collection.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Bathing Group (1916). Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.

William James Glackens, Bathers, Annisquam (1919). Courtesy of the Barnes Collection.

William James Glackens, Bathers, Annisquam (1919). Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.

François Clouet, Portrait of a Woman (c. 1560).Courtesy of the Barnes Collection.

François Clouet, Portrait of a Woman (c. 1560).Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.

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