Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Laura Holzman

Barnes Foundation

Businessman, chemist, educator, and art collector Dr. Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) established the Barnes Foundation in 1922 as a center for art education organized around his growing collection of paintings, sculpture, and furniture. The institution earned international renown, less for its pedagogy than for its art collection, which by mid-century was world-class. Initially based in the Philadelphia suburb of Merion, the foundation famously and controversially moved its galleries to a new campus on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City Philadelphia in 2012. This act completed the foundation’s transition from inwardly oriented school to publicly oriented cultural institution.

Barnes’s successful career in the pharmaceutical industry laid the groundwork for his foundation. He built a fortune manufacturing Argyrol, a widely used antiseptic that he developed with German chemist Hermann Hille (1871-1962). While running a factory in West Philadelphia to produce the drug, Barnes introduced the study of philosophy into his employees’ daily schedule. With advice from painter William Glackens (1870-1938), who knew Barnes from their days attending Central High School, Barnes began collecting art to use in his lessons. He launched his foundation with the goal of expanding these experiments in art education.

Barnes actively shaped every aspect of his fledgling organization. In the most tangible sense, he donated his art collection and a recently purchased plot of land in Merion to the foundation. The foundation’s charter and bylaws outlined the terms of these gifts and enumerated detailed guidelines that governed the foundation’s operations. He commissioned noted Beaux-Arts architect Paul Philippe Cret (1876-1945) to design the institution’s facilities. The foundation’s building, programs, and art collection additionally reflected Barnes’s ongoing interest in African American culture, which grew out of his fascination with music and religious ceremonies he encountered as a child. At times Barnes pursued partnerships with other schools and exhibition spaces in the region, but the foundation remained independent during his lifetime.

Education at the Barnes Foundation began as a pedagogical experiment in the systematic study of art. Barnes believed that learning to look carefully and methodically would grant students access to a deeper, more enriching experience of art. His theory of art education combined concepts of intelligence from psychologist William James (1842-1910), studies of aesthetics from George Santayana (1863-1952), and a philosophy of education and social reform pioneered by John Dewey (1859-1952). Dewey’s work was so influential that he was named honorary director of education at the foundation in 1923. Students read texts by these and other thinkers while they learned to visually dissect artworks with particular regard for what Barnes called “plastic form” – line, color, light, and space. In contrast to conventional practices, this technique downplayed other aspects of an artwork such as the artist’s intention, the story told by an image, and the historical circumstances surrounding an object’s creation.

[caption id="attachment_18993" align="alignright" width="300"]The famous "Wall Ensembles" of the Barnes Foundation. (Visit Philadelphia) "Wall Ensembles" engage viewers of art at the Barnes Foundation, shown in this photograph at its new location on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

To hone their visual analysis skills, students studied the eclectic objects that hung in the foundation’s galleries. These eventually included masterworks by European modernists such as Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and Henri Matisse (1869-1954), over a hundred African sculptures from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the largest known array of paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). It also featured works by American artists Barnes knew personally, such as Glackens, Charles Demuth (1883-1935), and Horace Pippin (1888-1946). To illustrate various lessons, Barnes installed these items in “wall ensembles”: complex, often symmetrical arrangements of artworks, metalwork (like hinges and dental tools), and in some cases, furniture. The composition of the wall ensembles invited viewers to look for visual connections across objects rather than study each piece individually. Diverging from contemporary exhibition trends, Barnes did not group objects by artist, culture, or historical period. Instead he mixed and matched, disconnecting the items on display from any context other than his galleries. Throughout his lifetime, Barnes reconfigured the wall ensembles to draw out new connections across objects.

[caption id="attachment_19047" align="alignright" width="300"]Horace Pippin was known for depicting scenes from his childhood and life experiences, here he depicts supper time with his family when he was a child. (The Barnes Foundation) Albert Barnes collected works by African American artists, including Horace Pippin. Known for depicting scenes from his childhood and life experiences, in this painting Pippin  depicts supper time with his family when he was a child. (The Barnes Foundation)[/caption]

Many of the education and exhibition practices at the Barnes Foundation reflected Barnes’s desire to change Philadelphia’s cultural landscape by providing a new model for experiencing art. He asserted that his institution offered a necessary alternative to the region’s art establishment, which he repeatedly criticized for its conservative tastes, elitism, and frivolity. His work, too, was the subject of frequent critique. For example, paintings from his collection met with mockery when exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1923.

Even so, the impressive collection eventually attracted extensive positive attention from scholars, art collectors, and other individuals not affiliated with the foundation. Members of the public who wanted to visit the collection were required to write to the foundation and request an appointment. Although Barnes welcomed many outsiders into his galleries, he notoriously denied access to several prominent individuals including author James A. Michener (1907-97), collector Walter P. Chrysler (1909-88), and art historian Meyer Schapiro (1904-96). Illustrative of Barnes’s strong personality and sharp tongue, some who were refused admission to the collection received rejection letters signed by Barnes’s francophone dog. Critics accused Barnes of leveraging his galleries as a tool for spurning people he did not like or whose elite social status he resented. Barnes maintained that for the sake of the school he only permitted visitors who were interested in the serious study of art.

When Barnes died unexpectedly in a car accident on July 24, 1951, the guidelines he developed for the foundation’s long-term operations took effect. As outlined in the foundation’s bylaws, these instructions ranged from a proscription against moving the paintings after he and his wife died to a plan for transferring leadership. Initially, his wife Laura (1875-1966), director of the foundation’s arboretum since 1928, became president. Education programs continued under the direction of Violette de Mazia (1896-1988), Barnes’s longtime assistant who had played a vital role in developing much of the curriculum. After Laura Barnes died, trustee Nelle E. Mullen (1883-1967) assumed the leadership position. Following her death, stewardship of the foundation began to shift from the original trustees to Lincoln University, a historically black university in nearby Chester County, which became responsible for appointing new trustees to the foundation’s board as positions opened.

[caption id="attachment_18995" align="alignright" width="300"]This painting is an example of the Barnes Foundation's extensive collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. (The Barnes Foundation) The Barnes Foundation features an extensive collection of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, including this work by Paul Cézanne. (The Barnes Foundation)[/caption]

With the exception of occasional lawsuits and financial challenges, the foundation operated quietly for four decades after Barnes’s death. It reemerged in the public eye in 1990, when newly appointed director Richard Glanton (b. 1946) initiated a series of changes aimed at improving the foundation’s fiscal viability and public image. Although the bylaws provided specifications for how the foundation should function when Barnes could no longer lead the organization, they provided limited options for raising the revenue required to maintain the foundation’s activities. By 1990 the galleries required substantial renovations and the foundation did not have sufficient funds to cover the cost of the project. To raise money for the endeavor, the foundation obtained permission from the Montgomery County Orphans’ Court to send selected works from the collection on an international tour while the galleries closed for renovations. Judge Louis Stefan (1925-94) determined that a one-time deviation from the prohibition against moving the paintings would be permissible in order to ensure the foundation’s future success. Between 1993 and 1995 an exhibition of European masterworks from the collection traveled to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Haus der Kunst in Munich, earning unprecedented attention for the collection and, in several cases, for the institutions that hosted the tour, as well.

When the collection returned from the tour and the galleries reopened in Merion in November 1995, the foundation faced new challenges. More visitors than ever flocked to see the now-famous art. Although a local ordinance limited the number of weekly visitors the foundation could host, the newfound attention created problems in the neighborhood. It brought an abundance of tourists onto a residential street, and the traffic upset neighbors. The foundation tried to ameliorate the situation by building a parking lot to accommodate the cars and tour buses, but neighbors protested this action, as well. Conflict over the increased traffic resulted in an expensive lawsuit that left the foundation unable to pay its legal bills and maintain operations under its financial model. Recognizing the hostile local context and financial challenges that it faced, foundation leaders explored the possibility of moving the galleries from Merion to Center City Philadelphia, where, they argued, the institution could better accommodate visitors and fundraise more effectively. At the same time, the foundation also sought court permission to expand its board from five members to fifteen members in order to broaden its adviser base and enhance its ability to raise funds and fulfill its mission.

Major Philadelphia philanthropists and political leaders backed these endeavors. Critics, including arts writers and Barnes alumni, vehemently protested against relocating the collection. They argued that it belonged in Merion because Cret’s galleries, the arboretum setting, and the historical context in which it had been displayed for decades were vital to the full experience of the collection. Others challenged the proposed board expansion, arguing that such an act would shift control of the foundation into the hands of powerful individuals and organizations that Barnes had vied with during his lifetime. The foundation’s lawyers argued that moving the collection and expanding the board was the only way that it could maintain operations. Although Judge Stanley R. Ott granted permission for these changes in 2004, the foundation was enmeshed in legal battles and waves of conflicting public opinion for nearly another decade as a group of neighbors and former students led repeated challenges to the judge’s ruling both within and beyond the courts. During that period the Barnes Foundation became an important case study for scholars and practitioners in a range of fields including philanthropy, nonprofit management, museum studies, and trust and estate law.

[caption id="attachment_18992" align="alignright" width="300"]The new Philadelphia location of the Barnes Foundation at dusk. (Visit Philadelphia) The new Philadelphia campus of the Barnes Foundation at dusk. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

Despite the efforts of those who opposed the move, the Barnes Foundation expanded onto a new campus on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, which opened to the public in 2012. At that time the Merion campus became dedicated primarily to horticultural programs. The 4.5-acre Philadelphia campus is located in a tourist district near the Franklin Institute, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and the central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. With a building by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and landscape design by Olin, it speaks the language of public institution, not domestic enclave. In addition to its permanent collection galleries, which resemble the historic Merion setting and preserved Barnes’s wall ensembles, the Parkway facilities include special exhibition galleries and visitor services beyond what was feasible in Merion. The foundation expanded its education programs to offer lessons for school groups in partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, and it provides both traditional and new courses for adult learners. The move cemented the foundation’s shift from primarily serving its regular students to directing its efforts toward a broad cross-section of the public. In turn, city leaders touted the Barnes on the Parkway as an important contribution to Philadelphia’s rich constellation of cultural offerings that elevate the city’s status in the eyes of national and international audiences.

Laura Holzman is Assistant Professor of Art History and Museum Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Gross Clinic (The)

[caption id="attachment_15632" align="alignright" width="575"]Gross Clinic Portrait The Gross Clinic, painted in 1875 by Thomas Eakins, depicts thigh surgery in progress as Dr. Samuel D. Gross delivers a surgical lecture to students of Jefferson Medical College. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

The Gross Clinic, painted in 1875 by Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), is among the most highly regarded American artworks from the nineteenth century. It is a portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (1805-84), an internationally celebrated surgeon who taught at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia from 1856 to 1882. Created by a local artist and depicting a famous local doctor, the monumental painting bears a special connection to Philadelphia.

The portrait shows Dr. Gross conducting an innovative medical procedure: a surgery to remove infected bone from his patient’s thigh. It is an intense scene with many participants. To the right, five young doctors attend to the patient. While W. Joseph Hearn (1842-1917) applies a sedating chloroform compress to the patient’s face, Charles S. Briggs (1851-1920) stabilizes the small body. Daniel Appel  (1854-1914) and an unidentifiable doctor hidden behind Dr. Gross pull back the patient’s flesh, while James M. Barton (1846-?) clears blood from the site of the incision. To the left, a seated woman, possibly the patient’s mother, turns away from the scene and shields her face in horror. At a lectern above the operating area, Dr. Franklin West (1851-77) takes notes for the medical record. In the background, in shadow, medical students and other onlookers observe the scene–some with intrigue and some with boredom. Eakins watches from the audience, too. He sits pencil-in-hand, cropped by the right edge of the canvas. Near the center of the image Dr. Gross, lit from above, pauses as he looks away from the surgery while holding a bloody scalpel in his hand. Dramatic lighting, thoughtful composition, masterful modeling of tones, and confident brushwork heighten the potency of the image.

Scholars have connected this scene to historical depictions of anatomy lessons including The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Velpeau (1864), by F.N.A. Feyen-Perrin (1829-88). Unlike Feyen-Perrin’s painting, which shows doctors dissecting a cadaver, Eakins’s work notably presents a doctor performing limb-saving surgery on a living patient. This distinction would not have been lost on Eakins, who was interested in science, medicine, and technology, and who painted portraits of leaders in those fields. He additionally studied anatomy, observed surgeries, and used photography in his art practice to better understand the human body and enhance the realism of his paintings.

Exhibition and Critical Reception

[caption id="attachment_15617" align="alignright" width="193"]As a prominent medical writer and lecturer during the nineteenth century, Samuel D. Gross served the medical students at Jefferson Medical College for a majority of his career. (Philadelphia Museum of Art) As a prominent medical writer and lecturer during the nineteenth century, Dr. Samuel D. Gross taught medical students at Jefferson Medical College for a majority of his career. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Eakins painted The Gross Clinic as a submission for the Centennial Exhibition, the world’s fair that Philadelphia hosted in 1876. Philadelphia led the nation in medical innovation and practice during the nineteenth century, so an expertly painted portrait of the city’s most famous living surgeon at work could have excellently showcased Philadelphia’s local achievements and national significance at the fair. Jury members rejected the painting from the fine arts exhibition, however, because they found the scene too disturbing. The Gross Clinic was displayed instead among other medicine-themed items in the U.S. Army Post Hospital exhibit.

Critics initially responded to the painting with mixed reactions. Some praised Eakins’s ability to render figures, although they deemed his depiction of the patient too visually confusing. Viewers frequently noted the way Eakins captured the drama of surgery, but they found the painting’s goriness distasteful. In 1878 the Jefferson alumni association purchased the painting for $200. The artwork was exhibited nationally three times in the next two decades, but it did not receive widespread praise until writers championed it in memorial catalogues published shortly after Eakins’s death in 1916.

In the years since, scholars have interpreted the painting in a number of ways. Focusing on Dr. Gross and the history of medicine in Philadelphia, the painting is a heroic portrait of a leader in the field of surgery. Interpreted through the lens of psychoanalysis, the painting provides an anxious commentary on the relationship between painting and writing in the nineteenth century. Analyses of the ambiguously gendered patient and the changing critical reception of the painting have offered insight into nineteenth-century ideas about gender and sexuality. The painting is discussed most frequently as an icon of American art. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it made a strong case that American painting could be as sophisticated as any European artwork.

Twenty-first Century Significance

For over a century the painting’s main home was at Jefferson, where it was a fixture for students and faculty. The Gross Clinic became the subject of expanded public interest in November 2006, when the school announced plans to sell the painting to raise funds for new medical and education facilities. The Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas, in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., offered to purchase the painting for $68 million. The arrangement stipulated that a local organization could buy the painting instead if it could match the agreed-upon price within the short period of forty-five days.

[caption id="attachment_15589" align="alignright" width="257"]Eakins portrait The painter Thomas Eakins was born in Philadelphia in 1844 and spent the majority of his life and career in the city. He died in 1916 at his lifelong home at 1729 Mount Vernon Street. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Almost immediately, a local grassroots effort to keep the painting in the city emerged. Soon after, several Philadelphia institutions collaborated to launch a major fund-raising campaign to enable the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to jointly purchase the painting. Leaders of these movements argued that The Gross Clinic was a Philadelphia icon that needed to remain in the city with which it was most strongly affiliated. Local media outlets provided educational information about the painting and daily updates on the fundraising effort, while area residents and other concerned individuals wrote countless blog posts and letters to the editor to share their feelings about the artwork. Taken together, these activities propelled a swell of civic pride. A desire to defend Philadelphia’s reputation and assert its role as a significant cultural center fueled the fervor for protecting this piece of the city’s cultural heritage. Over 3,600 individuals donated money in support of the effort. The museum and the academy raised additional funds by selling objects deemed less central to their collections. In 2007 the two institutions jointly purchased The Gross Clinic, made plans to exhibit it at each location on a rotating basis, and enabled a local icon to remain in Philadelphia.

Laura Holzman is Assistant Professor of Art History and Museum Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Research assistant Catherine Harmon aided in determining lifespan dates for individuals depicted in the painting.


More than just a popular series of Hollywood films or the fictional prizefighter whose life and career they chronicle, Rocky is a late-twentieth-century cultural phenomenon that reframed Philadelphia for local, national, and international audiences.

Rocky premiered in 1976. Written by and starring Sylvester Stallone (b. 1946), the film introduced audiences to Rocky Balboa: a down-and-out boxer and debt collector from Philadelphia who gained confidence as he trained to fight the reigning heavyweight champion. Although nearly everyone in Rocky’s world recognized that he was outmatched and expected him to lose badly, he held his own in a fight that lasted fifteen long rounds.

Fictional heavyweight Rocky Balboa had analogues in several actual boxers who fought during the twentieth century. Balboa shared his first name with Rocky Marciano (1923-69), the undefeated heavyweight champion from the 1950s. Chuck Wepner (b. 1939), who famously endured fifteen rounds in a 1975 match against heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali (b. 1942), was later dubbed “the real Rocky.” Also like Rocky, Philadelphia-based heavyweight champion Joe Frazier (1944-2011) was hailed as a hardworking blue-collar counterpart to his great rival Ali in the early 1970s.

Rocky, a low-budget production, won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Directing, and Film Editing. A franchise emerged. Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), Rocky IV (1985), Rocky V (1990), and Rocky Balboa (2006) tracked the eponymous protagonist as he persevered in the face of professional and personal challenges.

Primarily set in Philadelphia, with many scenes filmed around the city, Rocky and each subsequent installment in the series (except Rocky IV) offered viewers both an imagined and an actual image of Philadelphia.

Spotlight on the City

Local viewers could take pride in seeing their city on screen, while audiences elsewhere could survey Philadelphia as they watched Rocky run past the Navy Yard, along the Schuylkill River, through the Italian Market, and down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.  Other sites that appeared throughout the films, including Laurel Hill Cemetery, Rittenhouse Square, and Broad Street near City Hall, marked the setting as Philadelphia. Even the unglamorous row houses and shops in Rocky’s urban neighborhoods of Kensington and, later, South Philadelphia, represented the residential city. As the cityscape changed over the course of three decades of Rocky films, the movies documented that transformation.

In addition to their role as a backdrop to the film, some sites, like the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, actively contributed to Rocky’s story.

The climax of Rocky occurred during a training montage when Rocky triumphantly bolted up the seventy-two steps that lead from the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to the neoclassical façade of the Museum of Art. Rocky’s physical ascent demonstrated how his self-esteem had grown throughout the film. When he arrived at the top, he gazed out at the Philadelphia skyline; on his way to becoming a nationally recognized boxing star, Rocky appeared to hold the entire city in his vision.

The scene’s symbolism depended, too, on the museum’s cultural significance. Rocky’s journey from working-class Kensington to a recognizable bastion of high culture foreshadowed the wealth and cultural clout that the boxer earned as his career progressed.

Rocky-Philadelphia Overlap

The narrative of Rocky also overlaps with narratives about Philadelphia, its spirit, and its reputation. Rocky’s ability to beat the odds and transform from an average “bum from the neighborhood” into a nationally and internationally successful boxer corresponded to Philadelphia’s own arc during the late twentieth century. No longer the manufacturing power that it was decades earlier, and suffering from woes related to crime and political corruption, 1970s Philadelphia, like Rocky, was down and out. Rocky’s gritty perseverance became symbolic of the spirit of the city, suggesting that actual Philadelphians could similarly succeed in the face of seemingly overwhelming challenges. Nationally published newspaper articles and locally generated publicity materials promoted this belief. As policy changes, economic shifts, and tourism initiatives began to revive Philadelphia in the 1990s, the city demonstrated that, like Rocky, it could improve its condition and reassert its national and international significance.

Rocky and Philadelphia developed a symbiotic relationship that blurred the lines between the world of the films and actual Philadelphia. Some critics expressed concern that the films’ version of Philadelphia framed the city through the eyes of a white working-class protagonist beginning at a time when racial tensions in the city ran particularly high. Even so, Rocky’s fictional experiences and the image of the city that grew out of the early films resonated across diverse audiences.

Running up the steps of the Museum of Art became a popular tourist activity and a recurring trope in each Rocky movie. By the 1990s, the museum’s steps acquired a widespread vernacular title, “the Rocky Steps.” In addition to reenacting the popular scene from the film, runners understood their behavior as a performance that allowed them to channel Rocky’s perseverance.

In 1980, Stallone commissioned sculptor A. Thomas Schomberg (b. 1943) to create a bronze statue of Rocky. The 8-foot, six-inch piece appeared in Rocky III as the City of Philadelphia’s tribute to its by-then-famous hometown hero. Stallone donated the sculpture to the actual City of Philadelphia and proposed installing it in the same location where it appeared in the film. While critics rejected the sculpture on the ground that it was not worthy of display at the museum, supporters argued that embracing the statue would give deserved recognition to the Hollywood hit that generated valuable publicity and tourism for the city. The sculpture was moved several times over the next twenty-five years, but it spent much of that period on view outside the Spectrum arena in South Philadelphia. In 2006, the statue was permanently installed just north of the base of the Rocky Steps.  There, it commemorates the character, the films, and their important reciprocal relationship with Philadelphia.

Laura Holzman is Assistant Professor of Art History and Museum Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

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