"The Art of The Steal"--Film Review

Giorgio de Chirico portrait of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, 1923, Barnes Foundation
Giorgio de Chirico portrait of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, 1923, Barnes Foundation
Renoir, Barnes Foundation
Renoir, Barnes Foundation

The Art of the Steal, directed by Don Argott

"The Art of the Steal" is a compelling documentary with an "edge" which tells the story of how the elite Philadelphia art, business, publishing and political establishment conspired to "steal" the priceless Barnes art collection from Merion, Pennsylvania, by breaking the will of Dr. Albert C. Barnes, which established the Barnes Foundation in 1922 to preserve his educational institution and care for his incomparable collection of impressionist, post-impressionist and modern art. The "conspirators" are now in the process of moving the Barnes collection to a new site to provide a tourist attraction in downtown Philadelphia.

The priceless value of the Barnes Collection was illustrated in the documentary by showing the sale of a Van Gogh painting, inferior to any of the seven at Barnes, for $45 million. Some put the total value of the collection at $45 billion, well beyond the reach of any individual collector or museum. The Annenberg and Pew foundations managed to capture the collection and move it to Philadelphia for a tiny fraction of this value. Antagonism between Dr. Barnes and Walter Annenberg, owner of the Philadelphia Enquirer, and other members of the Philadelphia art, political and business establishment had simmered for years before Dr. Barnes death in 1951.

The 1 hour 50 minute documentary tells the story of Dr. Barnes life and remarkable collection which he assembled early in the 20th century before the art museum establishment recognized the value of impressionist and post-impressionist art. His collection included choice examples of paintings by Renoir (181), Cezanne (69), Matisse (59), Picasso (46), Rousseau (18), Degas (11) Van Gogh (7), Manet (4), Monet (4). The collection also includes important examples of American paintings, Asian and African art and sculpture.

Barnes Protesters at Groundbreaking for New Barnes in Philadelphia November 12, 2009
Barnes Protesters at Groundbreaking for New Barnes in Philadelphia November 12, 2009
Barnes Foundation
Barnes Foundation
Dr. Albert C. Barnes
Dr. Albert C. Barnes

"The Art of the Steal" Official Trailer

Paul Cezanne, The Card Players, Barnes Collection
Paul Cezanne, The Card Players, Barnes Collection
Matisse, 1923, Barnes Collection
Matisse, 1923, Barnes Collection
Van Gogh, Barnes Collection
Van Gogh, Barnes Collection
George Seurat, Barnes Collection
George Seurat, Barnes Collection
Paul Cezanne, La Montagne
Paul Cezanne, La Montagne
Soutine, Flayed Rabbit, Barnes Collection
Soutine, Flayed Rabbit, Barnes Collection
Paul Cezanne, Barnes Collection
Paul Cezanne, Barnes Collection
Henri Matisse, Barnes Collection
Henri Matisse, Barnes Collection
Henri Matisse, Barnes Collection
Henri Matisse, Barnes Collection
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Comments 36 comments

kay hebbourn profile image

kay hebbourn 6 years ago from The Lake District, England

WoW Ralph, amazing and really good images. A pleasure as ever. By the way two of your images are not showing up for some reason. Kay


Judith Spencer 6 years ago

I had the wonderful opportunity to view the Barnes collection a decade ago when it was on loan as an exhibit to the Kimball Art Museum here in Fort Worth...it was amazing to me that one man could collect such an exquisite group of paintings, seemingly by every renowned artist before they became famous...Barnes definitely had what the art world would call a "good eye".

Can't veiw the video link (computer glitch) but I'm definitely going to look for that DVD on Netflix!

Thanks so much for thinking of me, Ralph.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago Author

Thanks for your comments, Kay and Judith. All the pics and video are working on my computer.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Terrific hub. I am a student of art and always interested in stories such as this. Thanks so much. If you don't mind, I'd like to link to this article.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago Author

Thanks. Please do. The movie was fascinating if one-sided in the manner of Michael Moore.


Michael Shane profile image

Michael Shane 6 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

Well done Ralph!


Wiz 6 years ago

In the early Fifties, the entire art community in NYC was estimated to be less than four hundred people. In the Sixties and Seventies one could go to Manhattan and get one's fill of great art for very little money. Art wasn't a business then, it was more of a calling to enrichment and inform the spirit.

Nietzsche said: "For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication. "

It's all changed now and the same weasels and thieves who exploit the physical and human resources on this planet have done so with the cultural assets as well.

People who are intoxicated by money never see the intrinsic value of art--they only see the price tag.

Thanks Ralph; I look forward to seeing this film.


mewlhouse profile image

mewlhouse 6 years ago from Louisville

I enjoyed your work here. Thanks for posting it.


Wiz 6 years ago

??? Me?


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago Author

Wiz, I couldn't agree more. It's not a total black and white issue. We have several wonderful museums here in Detroit. The greatest one is the Detroit Institute of Arts which has a variety of great art including the best example in the U.S. of Diego Rivera's murals as well as a fair number of quality impressionist and other paintings. Also the DIA houses the Detroit Film Theater which offers

on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and evenings quality independent and vintage Hollywood movies. The Philadelphia establishment certainly screwed the Barnes Foundation. It occurred to me that the very least they could have done was to set aside sufficent money to repair the building and create quality reproductions of every piece in the collection and hang them exactly as Barnes did so that the Barnes Foundation school could continue somewhat as he wished. Does that make any sense to you as an artist?

Mewlhouse and Shane, tnx for your comments. I value your opinions!


Wiz 6 years ago

Ralph, you mean about reproductions?

Sadly, reproductions don't have the tactile, corporeal and thus, educational and experiential qualities of the real objects.

I couln't count the times of shock and surprise on my first time in Europe in seeing the things I'd studied in art history and realizing how much had been overlooked.

There's a magic that happens with the real object that can't be reproduced, IMHO.

Genuine lovers of art are willing to travel anywhere to have that "intoxication experience" that Nietzsche describes.

Nonetheless, seeing that work as Barnes envisioned seeing it will no longer be possible and that's a small tragedy that will join the millions of small and big tragedies in our ever expanding, yet dying, Philistine culture. I know that can sound like elitism, but it's the truth. People aren't being taught what the treasures of the eye are any longer. Today we're on a speeding subway car reading advertisements for fool's gold.


Evelyn Yaari 6 years ago

Wow, Ralph, this is impressive. Your review of the film and comments on the situation, plus the rich array of slides and videos is a feast! I love that shot of the Friends protesting on the Parkway at the groundbreaking. The Movers spent a total fortune on a huge, heated tent, catering by The Four Seasons, gold hard hats and engraved spades - the works in place for some great photo op's. But fate had other plans. The Associated Press photographer caught that shot you've shown of the stalwart Friends with their messages in front of the faux Barnes billboard and THAT was the shot that went all over the country with the AP story, including showing up in The New York Times the next day. We Friends of the Barnes are not giving in, groundbreaking notwithstanding. People are sending petitions and letters to the Donors via our website from all over the place. There is a link from our homepage at http://www.barnesfriends.org


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago Author

Evelyn, I'm honored by your comment. Thanks! I've added a link to the Friends of Barnes Foundation's website to this page.

Wizard, I hear what you're saying about reproductions and I don't disagree. I got the idea from the Edsel and Eleanor Ford mansion on Gaukler Point on Lake St. Clair in Grosse Pointe Shores. The huge mansion is now a foundation and is used for conferences, and the grounds for art fairs and the like. The interior was preserved the way it was when the Fords (Henry II, William Clay and Josephine grew up there) with their furniture books and toys. The Ford's collection (nothing like the Barnes) of impressionist art was removed and replaced with reproductions hanging where the originals were hung. The idea was to preserve as nearly as possible the appearance of the home when Eleanor and Edsel and their three children lived there. The originals of the paintings are probably hanging in the Detroit Institute of Arts along with the huge Diego Rivera mural of the Ford Rouge plant which was commissioned by Edsel Ford. In contrast to Rockefeller's allowing the Rivera mural in Rockefeller Center to be destroyed, Edsel stood his ground in the face of criticism and it remains the only or at least the greatest Rivera mural in the U.S.


Wiz 6 years ago

Oh I know of those murals and if I ever get to Detroit, I'll be sure to see them, Ralph. And if you're ever in Mexico City, be sure to see his murals there and visit Rivera's house; it's quite extraordinary and so is Frida Kahlo's house for that matter.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago Author

Been there, done that--Museo de Bellas Artes and Rivera's house. David Siquieros's murals are wonderful also. I'll send you some pictures of Rivera's Detroit murals.


Jeff T 6 years ago

My family and I had the pleasure to visit the Barnes Foundation last summer, and as you can see from the pictures that Mr. Deeds has postes, the collection is unbelievable. Not only is it a fantastic colleciton of impresionist art, but the educational mission of the foundation, as conceived by Dr Barnes, as well as way the artwork is displayed, to further that educational process, made it unlike any other art exhibit or museum that I have seen.

I saw the movie about a week ago, and while it is clearly one sided, it is hard to believe that more could not have been done to keep the collection in its present location. The current building and the setting are so beautiful and unique and are an important component of the entire experience when visiting the foundation. While I'm sure the collection will be able to be viewed by so many more people in its new location, its a shame the way Dr. Barnes' wishes were circumvented.

For those interested, there is still time to view the collection in its present location. It should not be missed.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago Author

Thanks, Jeff.


nancy herman 6 years ago

Dear Ralph,

Great job! Thanks for covering this story so well. Here is a link to a better version of the Barnes video.

http://www.youtube.com/user/illuminata?feature=mhw.../u/16/6i1M9oroaWI

Best,

Nancy Herman


nancy herman 6 years ago

Dear Ralph,

Great job! Thanks for covering this story so well. Here is a link to a better version of the Barnes video.

/Users/nancy/Movies/barnes reverie 2.iMovieProject/Shared Movies/iDVD/barnes reverie 2.mov

Best,

Nancy Herman


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago Author

Thanks, Nancy. I've added the video to this page. Keep the faith!


lovemychris profile image

lovemychris 6 years ago from Cape Cod, USA

I just love art! And these are some beauties Ralph...going to go back and take my time. Thank you ever so!


Wiz 6 years ago

Ralph, I think the following links relate nicely to this hub and what's been discussed--especially because it deals with connoisseurship and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

http://bigthink.com/ideas/19306

http://philamuseum.org/exhibitions/354.html


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 6 years ago Author

Thanks, Wiz. I added the links to the article above.


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 6 years ago from London, UK

The pictures are absolutely amazing. I didn't know people could break a Will. Very interesting read. Thanks.


Ogaga Onwoighsoe profile image

Ogaga Onwoighsoe 6 years ago from Marseilles , France.

They're all looking Good.... what a nice art work!!


Wiz 6 years ago

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ


Iðunn 6 years ago

nice plunges this week. it's not the big drop I predict, but it's more of a warning of that one. what is it so far today on the DOW, about 1000 points over the day and rose back to about 461 loss right now 30 minutes before close? and that is on top of the rest of the week.

this isn't it, though. there will be another fake recovery most likely and then I predict a real plunge of maybe 2000 pts in the next 6 months or so. if the value of the DOW is actually about 8500 (according to numerous sources) and overpriced by that 'consumer confidence' hot potato being reinstated and passed around again cause that's how it's always been the last few decades, I think in the long run it won't hold up.

with all the real problems in the U.S. and the world caused by corporate-government corruption and feeding average workers money to the upper elite, I don't think that fake lift, or any fake lift, is going to last.

could be wrong, but I don't think I am.

people are being shot in the streets in Greece in the riots and the population is fire-bombing banks. you can only rip the people off so long before you have an open revolution. their government wants to cut average persons' benefits to give more money to the rich.

it only take three days of no food among the population to instill revolution, they say. if the powers that be in THIS country write off 30% or more of the population as 'irrelevant' and 'undeserving' of employment and more specifically employment that covers the cost of living, I think they might find out whether that 30% considers themselves irrelevant relatively soon. the plunging DOW might be the least of U.S. problems, at that point, in such an armed population.


Coolmon2009 profile image

Coolmon2009 6 years ago from Texas, USA

I enjoyed your writing, and I enjoyed viewing your selection of pictures. Thank you for this article.


Tapestries profile image

Tapestries 5 years ago

Thank you for this fascinating documentary, and the great photos above. He did have a great collection of big name art pieces that are just stunning wall art. And shows the investment value of art as well...


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 5 years ago Author

The legendary Barnes Foundation closed its doors today. Here's a link to a NYTimes virtual tour of part of the museum.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/07/09/arts...


Mensa Mike 4 years ago

Being a near-Philly native, I had the opportunity to visit the Barnes in its suburban home once. It was an incomparable experience. We have the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Rodin museum on the Parkway in downtown Philly. But the Barnes, with its vast collection packed into one tiny mansion (oxymoron intended) was a sight to see.

I can only hope when they move the collection to its new home, they replicate the density of great works per room, to give the same feeling of overwhelement to the visitor that I felt looking at the collection in its original home.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 4 years ago Author

I hope so, too. And I hope they maintain the original Barnes with good photographic reproductions of all the paintings in their original places.


maxoxam41 profile image

maxoxam41 4 years ago from USA

Thank you for bringing to anyone that will read it knowledge of what we should all have seen since it reflects perfectly the shark environment we live in.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 3 years ago Author

3-27-13NYTimes "Barnes Foundation Restores Greek Vessel"

Barnes Foundation Restores Greek Vessel and Its Founder’s Room 17 - NYTimes.com

At the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia conservators are piecing together a Greek antiquity that was a centerpiece of one of Albert C. Barnes’s meticulously arranged galleries.


Alex Adelman profile image

Alex Adelman 2 years ago from Oakland Hills, CA

Cezanne's Card Players is possibly the most expensive work ever sold, at around $250,000,000, sold to the State of Qatar. I hope they are treating it well.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 2 years ago Author

Thanks. I added a link to an article about the "Card Players" $250 million sale. Too bad Barns missed that one. His collection had another "Card Players" Cezanne, however.

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