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The Heritage of Albert Barnes

In response to:

Victory! from the July 12, 2012 issue

To the Editors:

Martin Filler’s depiction of the controversy surrounding the Barnes Foundation is wrongheaded and incorrect [“Victory!,” NYR, July 12]. Albert Barnes’s “fierce determination to manipulate his enviable legacy from beyond the grave” is little different and hardly less praiseworthy from that of his nemesis Walter Annenberg, who battled Barnes in life and stole his art in death.

Filler says Barnes left his art’s “stewardship” to Lincoln University “as a rebuke to the Philadelphia elite.” Perhaps it was also out of admiration for my father and the institution he led. In any event, Lincoln could never have “sold off” the collection, as Filler surely knows.

Rather, Lincoln fell prey to a fading city’s desire for an additional tourist attraction. The city and its enablers found it easy to cast aside Albert Barnes’s directions, his desires, and his disdain for the very people and institutions who scorned and despised his art until others validated it.

To compare Lincoln University where my father was president and of which Albert Barnes was an admirer to “an incompetent out-of-control relative” is elitist or racist or both, as is his claim that the outcome “has been a triumph for all concerned.”

Julian Bond
Washington, D.C.

Martin Filler replies:

I share Julian Bond’s admiration for his father, Dr. Horace Mann Bond, who served with distinction as president of Lincoln College from 1945 to 1956. However, this was long before the very well documented problems, including mismanagement and overspending, that brought the Barnes Foundation to the brink of ruin some three decades after Dr. Bond’s death in 1972. By the same token, the heirs of Walter Annenberg, who died in 2002, would likely take issue with Julian Bond’s assertion that Annenberg “stole [Barnes’s] art in death.”

Even Julian Bond’s mother, Julia Bond, was uncertain about precisely why Albert Barnes decided to bequeath control of his foundation to Lincoln. As she told John Anderson in an interview for his book Art Held Hostage: The Battle Over the Barnes Collection:

I don’t think [my husband] had any idea that Dr. Barnes would leave the foundation to Lincoln…. I think Dr. Barnes was interested in Lincoln. But he’d been interested in all these other places, too. Then he got mad at them. He got mad at them and fell out with them and changed his will. So who knows what he wanted to do?

As Anderson makes abundantly evident in his thoroughly researched and extensively reported account of the Barnes controversy, there can be little doubt that Richard H. Glanton, who served as president of the Barnes Foundation from 1990 to 1998, was eager to sell works from the collection, specifically Matisse’s historically pivotal Le bonheur de vivre, even though Albert Barnes’s indenture had forbidden this. It is indeed entirely possible—given the subsequent breaking of Barnes’s trust in 2004—that Glanton might well have found a way to do so had others not intervened.

Julian Bond’s strong opposition to the Barnes’s move to Philadelphia was made clear in interviews he gave for Don Argott’s documentary film The Art of the Steal. He is certainly entitled to his opinions, but I am deeply offended by and thoroughly reject his use of the word “racist”—something his father would never have done.

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