Wellington, a top trial lawyer at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis L.L.P., was the Barnes' lead litigator in pressing for the move, and he has lived with the case for more than a decade now. While it is the museum's huge collection of works by Renoir, Cézanne and others that draw visitors, the trial lawyers listening to Wellington, members of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, were there for a granular unpacking of the legal principles underlying the case.
Wellington, who had argued the case many times before the Court of Common Pleas, was happy to oblige.
Exhibit A was obscure correspondence between Albert C. Barnes and various university and college presidents Barnes hoped would affiliate with his art collection. Most of these flirtations, with the exception of his alliance with Lincoln University, the historically black university in Chester County, ended badly.
"Let's get this straight right away," wrote one frustrated college president, after a stormy and ultimately failed courtship. "There is nothing that you have that I want."
Disengaging from Lincoln's control of the Barnes trust was key to the legal strategy for moving the Barnes and gaining broader financial support. It became a lightning rod for criticism, and a focal point of the documentary film, The Art of the Steal, which took former Gov. Ed Rendell and other state politicians to task for engineering the move and diminishing Lincoln's influence.
The art students, neighbors of the Barnes, and others who opposed the move said the plan violated Barnes' wishes and would fundamentally diminish a cultural treasure, which Barnes stipulated should remain in Lower Merion.
"He was very hands on, very particular," said Wellington, a former chairman of Schnader Harrison. "Dr. Barnes was a relatively difficult, eccentric person. Brilliant, but difficult."
Wellington suggested, however, that the ever-changeable Barnes might also have changed the affiliation with Lincoln, had he lived longer, because he had cast off other potential partners.
Barnes, born in 1872, grew up poor in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, and his penchant for picking fights with local elites is legendary. In the trust documents setting up the foundation, he stipulated that the art collection, buildings and grounds would be used for educational purposes. Those documents also created some flexibility for changing the operation of the museum if its educational mission couldn't be achieved.
Wellington argued at trial that the obscure location of the gallery, restrictions imposed by local officials, and other obstacles had a ruinous effect on the Barnes' finances.
While critics of the move insisted that the foundation might sell works in storage or Barnes' country estate, Ker-Feal, Wellington and the Schnader team asserted that such deaccessioning contradicted Barnes' intention and in any event breached accepted principles of museum management.
It was an argument that Montgomery County Orphans Court Judge Stanley Ott found persuasive. In signing off on the move, Ott essentially found that the only way to rescue the Barnes financially was for the museum to move.
Ott may have been prescient in that regard, as Wellington pointed out in his lecture. Before the move, the foundation had about 400 paying members. That number is now more than 22,000.
For more on the Barnes, including the history of the legal issues, go to www.philly.com/barnes
Contact Chris Mondics at 215-854-5957 or email@example.com.