The gift last spring was followed by a milestone in the Barnes' history: the awarding of a contract to Alfred A. Knopf to publish two books, including a color catalogue, on the museum's collection of 800 paintings and 200 sculptures. The Barnes had never allowed such publications.
S.I. Newhouse Jr., chairman of Advance Publications, which owns Knopf, is the son of Samuel Newhouse.
Neither Richard H. Glanton, president of the Barnes, nor Thomas Timoney, the Barnes attorney, returned phone calls yesterday requesting comment on the petition's withdrawal.
But attorneys for two groups that had challenged the petition, the Violette de Mazia Trust and three Barnes art-education students, said they would not let the matter rest.
"It doesn't end it all. We're going to respond," said James R. Beam, who represents the De Mazia Trust, established by one of the chief proteges of Albert C. Barnes, the museum's founder.
William Bradbury, an attorney representing the students, said that there were two possible explanations for the petition's withdrawal. "Either the reason that they wanted the petition in the first place doesn't exist anymore - and I don't know why that would be the case - or it got too hot in the kitchen," he said.
Both the De Mazia Trust and the students say they are concerned with preserving art-education classes at the Barnes, which they say might be threatened by extended visiting hours. The museum, which charges $1 admission, is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday afternoons.
Barnes, a lifetime foe of the art establishment, set up a trust containing innumerable restrictions on the foundation's operations - barring it from lending, selling or even moving its paintings, limiting its accessibility to the public and restricting investments to railroad and government securities.
In their March petition, the Barnes trustees sought relief from what they called "conditions contained in the trust which over the years have become impractical" and have contributed to "the frustration or defeat" of the foundation's mission to promote education and art appreciation.
Their most controversial request was to sell up to 15 paintings in order to raise money to repair the building - a request that was withdrawn in June after a barrage of criticism.
Nick Tinari, one of the three students challenging the Barnes petition, said the turnabout by the Barnes did not surprise him.
"I don't feel that they ever had any intention of producing these
documents," he said. "They let the case drag out until it was obvious
that they would have to deal with us . . . and would have to produce the
documents. . . .
"What they've said is, 'We are in dire straits and we have to change the rules,' " said Tinari, an electrical engineer from Broomall. "Now they're saying, 'We don't need to change the rules.' "