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The Devil and Dr. Barnes: Portrait of an American Art Collector

The Devil and Dr. Barnes: Portrait of an American Art Collector [Kindle Edition]

Howard Greenfeld
2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description

Product Description

Albert Coombs Barnes, one of the most eccentric, controversial figures of the early twentieth-century art world, springs vividly from the pages of Howard Greenfeld's superb biography. The Devil and Dr. Barnes traces the near-mythical journey of a man who was born into poverty, amassed a fortune through the promotion of a popular medicine, and acquired the premier private collection of works by such masters as Renoir, Matisse, Cézanne, and Picasso. Ostentatiously turning his back on the art establishment, Barnes challenged the aesthetic sensibilities of an uninitiated, often resistant and scoffing, American audience. In particular, he championed Matisse, Soutine, and Modigliani when they were obscure or in difficult straits. Analyzing what he saw as the formal relationships underlying all art, linking the old and the new, Barnes applied these principles in a rigorous course of study offered at his Merion foundation. Barnes's own mordant words, culled from the copious printed record, animate the narrative throughout, as do accounts of his associations with notables of the era--Gertrude and Leo Stein, Bertrand Russell, and John Dewey among them--many of whom he alienated with his appetite for passionate, public feuds. In this rounded portrait, Albert Barnes emerges as a complex, flawed man, who--blessed with an astute eye for greatness--has left us an incomparable treasure, gathered in one place and unforgettable to all who have seen it.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2646 KB
  • Print Length: 310 pages
  • Publisher: Camino Books (10 Jun 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0055FE218
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #249,990 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars He's not a nice guy 24 Feb 2009
Albert Barnes had always intrigued me ever since I learned of his foundation in Philadelphia. I wanted to learn more. I read The Devil and Dr. Barnes and came away from it with an unpleasant taste in my mouth, no fault of the writer. Dr. Barnes was not a nice person. I realize the book was centered on the Foundation and Dr. Barnes' peculiar way of running it, but I would have preferred to see more art and less artlessness. His treatment of Bertrand Russell was especially demeaning. I did come across a good quote by Barnes that I hope to use one day: "...a hearsay version of a honeymoon narrated by an octogenerian."
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.1 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dr Barnes 20 Jan 2005
By M. E. Johnson - Published on
I thoroughly enjoyed this book between hilarious episodes of unending laughter and looking at the picture of the author who could stand to compile all of this! This is not a detailed biography of Dr. Barnes but rather a focussed smear of all letters he wrote to people who agitated him. It seems if you left him alone, he was a nice person, but he defended himself and his art views when attacked. How reasonable! There is helpful information to a researcher but the author seriously fails to develop a thesis for all the material he gathered. For instance, noting that Charles Laughton was a frequent house guest and not commenting on what Elsa Lancaster had to say about him. Not putting the photographs in context with the times and story, as most of the ones provided were posed or journalistic productions. No original theories to solve any mysteries were proposed and no, absolutely NO references to fine art or how any of these controveries documented in era correspondence affected, for example, Matisse's development of the mural in the lobby, or how many Soutine's were purchased, or the specific focus of the Renoir collection. All of this is non-existent in this book, which makes this book useful only to someone who is interested in character assassination of philanthropists and who like a good laugh at the expense of other people's immaturity and lack of emotional development in cricital areas.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest and Balanced 29 May 2010
By Carol Nagel - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had read this book several years ago, but lent it out and lost track of it. With the current controversy about moving the Barnes collection into Philadelphia, and especially with the movie "The Art of the Steal" circulating nationally, I wanted to reread and relend this excellent book. The value of this book is its thoroughness and its truly balanced portrayal of Barnes' personal and collecting history. Having been to the Barnes Foundation many times since 1964, I am certainly aware of the peculiarities of how that museum has treated the public, and I have heard gossipy stories of Albert Barnes' outrageous behavior. This book clarifies and documents that which is on record, and by neither protecting nor attacking Barnes, achieves the difficult goal of truly balanced understanding.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading 15 Jun 2013
By William D. Hooper - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is essential reading for any person interested in a fuller understanding of Albert Coombs Barnes, and why and how he built his world class art collection. Like any biography, it is not a complete picture; it does not, with a few exceptions, directly express Dr. Barnes voice; and is subject to the author's interpretation based on secondary sources, not on interviews with Dr. Barnes. That being said, the author Howard Greenfeld, has done a good job in bringing Dr. Barnes to life for us as a pioneer in collecting modern art, and in art education. It was the doctor's parallel interests in collecting modern art of the early 20th century, and in a more objective, analytic basis for art education that led him to form the Barnes Foundation as an educational institution, not as a museum.

The author details many dimensions of the man - both good and bad. Certainly, Dr. Barnes was near brilliant, graduating medical school by age 20, followed by post doctoral research in chemistry. He believed strongly in the scientific method, and in more objective, analytic analysis. In addition from a very young age, he was interested in art. With the wealth generated by his medical product Argyrol, he had the means and time to bring his interests in art and education to fruition with the help of his artist friend William Glackens, and Professors John Dewey and Bertrand Russell. He was self made, and dogged in learning about modern art. He also had issues. He grew up poor, and head to literally fight for what he had or wanted in life. He and is brother would box, to develop their skills, to hold off the other kids that would pick on Barnes. This "scrappy" nature stuck with Barnes all his life. He was not a man of compromise, or for finding a meeting of the minds. Rather, he pushed for himself - his own self-interest, and for his own views and beliefs. He had control issues, and demanded complete loyalty. The first time you overstepped your bounds, let alone crossed him, you were out of his life.

For me, the most important parts of the book deal with the "roots" of the Barnes foundation's 3 year art and aesthetics program, the germ of which started in Barnes' factory education program, and then evolved under Dr. Barnes direction at his Merion, PA gallery. Admission to the program required an interview, and was highly selective. Dr. Barnes and key staff were only interested in "earnest" students, and if your interest waned, you were quickly shown the door.

On pages 268 to 270, there is a dramatic example of the Barnes approach to analyzing art, versus a non-analytic approach. It was during a 1948 lecture regarding the Matisse retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, when Abraham Chanin, one of Dr. Barnes former students, took Fiske Kimball, a noted architect and director of the museum, to task. Quoting Chanin to Kimball: "You have not made a single statement that would enable a person of average intelligence to learn what makes a painting a work of art, or what makes a painting by Matisse different from the work of any other modern painter.

Overall, Howard Greenfeld has written an important book that is essential reading to understand Dr. Barnes, the Barnes Foundation and the basis for its well regarded art and aesthetics program. It would have been a "5" if he had also addressed the important relationship among the arboreteum at Merion, Mrs. Barnes, and the art work in the gallery.

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A vivid depiction of a remarkable life and is very highly recommended reading for art students and collectors 3 May 2006
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
The Devil And Dr. Barnes: Portrait Of An American Art Collector by Howard Greenfeld is an extensive study of an eccentric man's defiant accomplishments in the creation of the his prestigious art collection obtained for the mere enjoyment of the imagery. Engaging its readers in the fascinating life of Albert Coombs Barnes, The Devil And Dr. Barnes provides readers with an engaging biography of a complex, passionate individual, his life and involvement with the art world, drawing upon accounts from Gertrude and Leo Stein, Berrtrand Russe, John Dewy and a great many more of his contemporaries. The Devil And Dr. Barnes is a vivid depiction of a remarkable life and is very highly recommended reading for art students and collectors.
4.0 out of 5 stars complicated man, story well told 30 May 2014
By Edward Jakmauh - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Recommended to anyone interested in running a museum, art gallery or art history. Shows a lot about ability to deal with others who may not have the same vision
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