An Eccentric Local Institution Drew The Interest Of The World Glanton Sent The Paintings On Tour And Spruced Up The Facilities.

Posted: February 10, 1998

In the summer of 1990, Richard H. Glanton, a 43-year-old, high-powered Philadelphia lawyer, took over as president of a sleepy institution on the lower Main Line called the Barnes Foundation.

He promptly woke up the institution - and the entire art world - with a bang.

The Barnes Foundation houses one of the world's greatest collections of Impressionist, post-Impressionist and early modernist art - more than 2,000 works by Renoir, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso and Modigliani - along with an unusual selection of African art.

``It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of the Barnes holdings, particularly among the works of Renoir, Cezanne and Matisse,'' said Joseph J. Rishel, senior curator of European painting before 1900 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. ``One cannot presume to have even an essential knowledge of Matisse, Renoir and Cezanne without knowing the Barnes collection.''

It is difficult to single out the masterpieces of the Barnes collection, but they would include Cezanne's powerful The Card Players, Seurat's Models, Manet's Tarring the Boat, Picasso's Acrobat and Young Harlequin, and Matisse's Bonheur de vivre.

Yet before Glanton, the Barnes Foundation had been known mainly to scholars of art and connoisseurs of the eccentric. Under his 7 1/2-year stewardship, which ended yesterday, the Barnes became generally known as a world-class institution, a must-see stop for anyone interested in the birth and growth of modern art.

This trove had been gathered by the brilliant, cantankerous and litigious Dr. Albert C. Barnes, who made a fortune with a patent medicine called Argyrol and spent a large part of it acquiring masterpieces that many in the art establishment of the time derided.

Barnes established the foundation as an educational institution where students would learn his own theories on art. He never intended it to be a museum. Quite the contrary: During his lifetime, he allowed only people he liked to visit his collection. It took a prolonged court case in the early 1960s to open up the foundation on a limited basis.

An advocate of the rights of African Americans, Barnes provided that when the original foundation trustees quit or died, new trustees were to be named by Lincoln University, a historically black college in Chester County. In 1990, Lincoln's board of trustees named Glanton - then, as now, counsel to the university - as president (and de facto director) of the Barnes Foundation.

Directors of museums are usually charged to keep an institution running, raise money, acquire art and increase attendance. Glanton was prevented from acquiring art and attracting more viewers because of the founder's stated restrictions. In his most effective move, he succeeded in sending 80-plus masterpieces on a world tour that attracted more than five million viewers in Washington, Paris, Tokyo, Fort Worth, Toronto and Munich, as well as locally at the Art Museum. In the process, he put the Barnes Foundation on the global map.

The tour raised more than $16 million, $12 million of which was spent on a massive, badly needed overhaul of the foundation's French Renaissance mansion in Merion, designed in the 1920s by Paul Philippe Cret. The heating and air-conditioning system, the security and other systems were replaced, and the works of art were rehung, but in exactly the idiosyncratic way Barnes had placed them.

The world tour and concurrent renovation were extremely constructive, according to Cuyler H. Walker, an attorney with the Philadelphia firm Pepper Hamilton LLP who served as a member of the foundation's board of trustees. But, Walker said, ``a lot of that was acccomplished in a style which antagonized and alienated a panoply of constituencies.''

Walker said he remained concerned about the financial condition of the institution.

``When I came on the board in 1990, the financial condition of the foundation was precarious, and despite the fact that millions of dollars have been raised from the tour, most of that money was spent on the renovations, and what remains is heavily restricted by the court. The foundation's financial condition continues to be precarious.''

Glanton also received court permission to increase the price of admission from $1 to $5; he had hoped for $10. By court order, the foundation is open fewer hours now than recently, and attendance is limited to 500 people a week, but the demand to attend has never been greater.

One of Glanton's first moves after taking over as president was to announce that the building was in such bad shape that it would be necessary to generate some quick cash. He proposed to do so by selling some of its works.

The proposal raised a storm of criticism in the art world, not only because it flouted the will of the founder, who had expressly forbidden any of his collection to be sold or even leave the building, but also because the American Association of Museums, the main advisory group in the field, says in its guidelines that it is unprofessional for museums to sell or ``deaccess'' works to pay operating or other expenses.

Glanton backed off, then proposed that money be raised by sending a selection of works on an international tour. The proposal required permission of Montgomery County Orphans Court, and it took more than two years of litigation before the court gave its approval for a one-time departure from the founder's command that his collection was never to leave the mansion.

Glenn D. Lowry, former director of the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, one of the stops on the collection's world tour, yesterday praised Glanton's persistence and vision in making the tour a reality.

``I thought he handled himself impeccably,'' said Lowry, who is now director of New York's Museum of Modern Art. ``He managed to lead the Barnes out of crisis at a time when it needed leadership. And he garnered for the Barnes international recognition. . . . And he brought an enormous amount of excitement and attention to the foundation that resulted in a finely resolved renovation and restoration.''

Lowry added: ``Any time you take an institution that is quiet and, some might say, sleepy, and charge it with the kind of energy that Richard brings to his projects, it's likely to be controversial.''

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