Art Held Hostage: The Battle over the Barnes Collection

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9780393048896: Art Held Hostage: The Battle over the Barnes Collection

The battle for control of America's greatest private art collection.

This is the story of how a fabled art foundation―the greatest collection of impressionist and postimpressionist art in America―came to be, and why it is now, thanks to more than a decade of legal squabbling, on the brink of financial collapse. The Barnes Collection has been conservatively valued at more than $6 billion and includes some 69 Cézannes (more than in all the museums of Paris combined), 60 Matisses, 44 Picassos, 18 Rousseaus, 14 Modiglianis, and no fewer than 180 Renoirs. Yet the Barnes is in crisis. Its founder, Dr. Albert C. Barnes (1872), grew up in the slums of late-nineteenth-century Philadelphia only to become first a physician and later a pharmaceutical king. By 1920, this self-made man was already well on his way to becoming one of the great art collectors of his day. But this is also the story of Richard Glanton, who escaped poverty in rural Georgia to become a high-flying, politically powerful Philadelphia lawyer. It was Glanton who took the Barnes art on its celebrated worldwide tour, renovated the galleries-and presided over a decade of expensive litigation. The most famous of these court cases―this one in federal court―pitted the Barnes against its wealthy neighbors. The goal: A 52-car parking lot for the Barnes. The cost: more than $6 million in legal fees. Today, Glanton is no longer president of the Barnes, and the new board is seeking to move the collection into the city. Yet another court case will decide whether they can or not. The battle of the Barnes has only just begun. "Here, at long last, is the whole truth about the Dickensian legal tug-of-war―unimaginably tangled, unsparingly vicious, unprecedentedly cynical―that threatens the survival of one of the greatest private art collections of the twentieth century. From now on, anyone who seeks to understand the desperate plight of the Barnes Collection will have to start by reading this important book." ―Terry Teachout, author of The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken "John Anderson has produced a riveting account of curators, trustees, and lawyers fighting for control of the world-famous Barnes Collection of French impressionist art from the 1950s to the present. Based on hundreds of revealing interviews, Art Held Hostage reads like a superb mystery novel: This gem of investigative reporting is a sure contender for the national best-seller lists." ―Howard R. Lamar, Sterling Professor Emeritus of History, Yale University

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Review:

Art Held Hostage reveals the messy inside story about the most infamous world-class art museum that you’ve probably never heard of. The saga begins with the life and times of Albert C. Barnes, a Philadelphia business magnet who, after making his fortune during the Depression, becomes one of America’s most important collectors of impressionist and post-impressionist art. The collection includes famed paintings by such luminaries as Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso, and Renoir. Barnes became well known for his harsh personality and instigated a problematic invitation-only policy to his museum, located in a Philadelphia suburb. Strangely, even after Barnes’ death the museum continued to become embroiled in financial, legal, and community disputes. The story gets uglier during the 1990s with a series of lawsuits for the foundation’s high-profile president, including a racial discrimination suit and eventually near-bankruptcy for the collection. Author John C. Anderson, a contributing editor of The American Lawyer magazine, spares no cynical detail in his investigation into this truly American tale of power, litigiousness, and boardroom antics. This is a book for those interested in the dark underbelly of the business side of the art world. -- J.P. Cohen

About the Author:

John Anderson is the author of three works of nonfiction, including Burning Down the House, which won the Myers Award for outstanding book on race relations in America. He lives in Ossining, New York.

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