"It was a very expensive ticket for Philadelphians, and Philadelphia really stepped up," said Barnes fund-raiser Linda Scribner Paskin.
An unexpected guest added some frisson to the event: the arrival Friday of a front-page New York Times art review trumpeting the success of the move.
"Against all odds, the museum that opens to the public on Saturday is still very much the old Barnes, only better," wrote Roberta Smith. The "quirky institution is suddenly on the verge of becoming the prominent and influential national treasure that it has long deserved to be. It is also positioned to make an important contribution to the way we look at and think about art."
Barnes president Derek Gilman said the review meant a "huge amount" to the museum. "It was positive and enthusiastic. And it got it so right."
Some begged to differ. About a dozen members of the Friends of the Barnes, which fought the move for years, set up a protest across the street from the entrance to the gala on 20th Street.
"We want to bear witness to what is happening here tonight," said the group's Evelyn Yaari. "Dr. Barnes' collection has been taken from the place where it was intended to be."
Barnes Foundation donors, though, were buoyed by the evening, the way the art looked in its new home, and the satisfaction of having reached the goal of a new site.
"I call it elegant simplicity," said H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, one of the prime players behind the move. "I am so happy we started all this."
The gathering of art dealers, bankers, foundation heads, architects, art museum heads, lawyers and philanthropists was the city's largest such gathering in some time, several veteran gala attendees said.
Norah Jones provided the entertainment for a tentful of guests that included Mayor Nutter and wife Lisa; members of the Roberts, Haas, and Hamilton families; Sidney and Caroline Kimmel; and architects Tod Williams and Billy Tsien.
"This is a pretty snazzy crowd," said art collector and cultural leader Marsha Perelman.
"Do you think a lot of New Yorkers will be coming to Philadelphia to see this?" she asked museum veteran Lisa Dennison, now of Sotheby's.
"By droves, they'll be coming," said Dennison. "They'll do other things while they're here, going to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Rodin Museum, the restaurants. Absolutely."
"It will be wonderful for Philadelphia, and will be wonderful for the PMA," agreed Philadelphia Museum of Art trustee chair Constance H. Williams.
Some had to make a tough choice to attend the gala. There's a lot of overlap among Philadelphia's arts boards, and Friday night another of the city's major cultural resources was taking a prime piece of impressionism to New York: the Philadelphia Orchestra, led by Charles Dutoit, was performing Ravel's Daphnis and Chloé in Carnegie Hall.
One major donor to the orchestra, Carole Haas Gravagno, chose the Barnes, which was especially difficult since she is also a member of the chorus for the Ravel.
"I had to be here," she said. "They gave me the night off."
Contact Peter Dobrin at 215-854-5611 or email@example.com. Read his blog at www.philly.com/artswatch.