Barton Church, artist and Barnes teacher, dies at 86

Barton Church at the Barnes Foundation in Merion in 1972.
Barton Church at the Barnes Foundation in Merion in 1972. (ANGELO PINTO)
Posted: February 28, 2013

Barton Church, 86, of Narberth, an artist who taught in the Barnes Foundation's signature art appreciation program for more than 60 years, died Thursday, Feb. 21, at Lankenau Medical Center of pneumonia.

Widely admired for his modesty and generosity, Mr. Church retired from the foundation in 2011 after decades of teaching the foundation's Traditions course.

"Barton Church was immensely knowledgeable and was respected as a teacher by all who knew him and studied with him," said Barnes executive director and president Derek Gillman. "He was a gracious gentleman who will be greatly missed."

The course that Mr. Church taught looked closely at Byzantine design and form, Florentine and Venetian artists, northern European painting, and 19th-century masters, then zipped into scrutinizing the foundation's enormous cache of Cézannes, Renoirs, Matisses, and Picassos.

Mr. Church was also an accomplished painter in his own right. His oil Girl in a Chair (1951) became the last painting acquired by Albert C. Barnes before his death in a 1951 car accident.

Barnes, who was excruciatingly particular about the placement of artworks in his galleries, hung his new Church (for which he paid the artist $100) on the wall above a Matisse and beneath a Civil War-era surgical saw.

Mr. Church was puzzled by the placement, he told the New York Times many years ago, but pleased with Barnes' assessment of the new acquisition: "It knocks the hell out of the Matisse," he said Barnes told him.

Despite the praise, Mr. Church maintained his modesty. He was asked in recent years for a resumé by the Barnes education department and provided a one-page, handwritten note:

"My professional vitae is very simple," he wrote.

"I was born Aug. 4, 1926, in Lamoni, Iowa.

"I was admitted to study at the Barnes Foundation in the fall of '49 and completed the offered courses in the spring of '51.

"In the summer of '52 I was asked to teach a 2nd year class. I started teaching at the Barnes Foundation in the fall of '52 & have done so each year since.

"A Barnes Foundation Traveling Scholarship was provided to me for the summer of '53 and I have drawn on the knowledge gained ever since."

Mr. Church is survived by his wife, Mary Jane; a son, Charles Lamoni Church; two grandchildren; and a brother.

A private cremation has been held and a memorial service at Simpson House, the retirement community on Belmont Avenue, is being planned.

Contact Stephan Salisbury

at 215-854-5594,, or @SPSalisbury on Twitter

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