BARNES COLLECTION: What’s Missing That Shouldn’t Be Missing?

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THIS watercolor, gouache, pastel and pencil on paper by Maurice Brazil Prendergast, titled Bathers and Strollers, was one of many art pieces sold violating Barnes Museum Trust and which, along with others, is lost to viewers of new Barnes Collection. It sold at auction for $314,500.

BY RON TAYLOR/ Have you ever had the idea that you didn’t want to go somewhere – and then, when you got there, regretted showing up?

Despite my press credentials, I decided not to go to the press event opening the new Barnes Art Exhibit in Philadelphia, even though I am a graduate of the Barnes Art Program (1978-79) and have a Master’s degree in art education, and also draw editorial cartoons for the Philadelphia Public Record. Even though I was the only citizen and resident of Montgomery Co., Pa. who tried to defend the Barnes Trust will documents, only to be denied, time and again, “standing” in Judge Stanley Ott’s Orphan’s Court.

My credentials were I had been a graduate student at the Barnes and a friend of Violette de Mazia, a trustee and director of education at the Barnes. She lived in the original mansion of Dr. Albert Barnes after Dr. Barnes built a brand-new mansion and museum near to the old mansion. She was allowed to live in the old mansion since she was the senior trustee and literally ran the museum, ruling on everything involving it.

As a routine matter, she would take to the old mansion, now her home, her favorite pieces of art, which she used as teaching aids for her students. The mansion was already filled with old antiques and paintings and all were part of Dr. Barnes’ collections. Once, while visiting with her, sitting in the living room on one of her couches, I noticed, to my amazement, all the paintings hanging in the room were original masterpieces. On the floor leaning against the grandfather’s clock was a painting of a nude bust by Renoir. I asked her about it. She said that “was the only painting Dr. Barnes has given me from his collection, I like it so much. It is the only one I own.”

Among my talents are those of a researcher and genealogist. I read her will in the Montgomery Co. archives. I was curious as to what it was worth. Her estate appraised it at $600,000. I noticed she had given special gifts to about 20 of her close friends and Barnes supporters over the years, small artifacts from the collection, one of these a collection of Navaho jewelry. This shocked me.

I discovered there was no official inventory of the mansion’s collection. She had one painting, but she gave away some, sold some and, after her death, the mansion’s remaining Barnes Collection pieces were sold.

In short, what is now available for public viewing at the new Barnes in Philadelphia is not the complete collection.

I learned, in my research of the Barnes Trust documents, Violette de Mazia had five of the paintings I had seen hanging in her living room. They were sold through Christie’s Auction House without much fanfare. She raised $5 million for a legal-defense fund to defend against the movement to relocate the Barnes collection to Philadelphia. Only the most liberal interpretation of Dr. Barnes’ will could possibly allow her to do this, since he expressly willed, “No paintings are to be sold or moved from my collection.”

Rumors of possible theft circulated when an expensive baby grand piano and a Cézanne were noted as missing. The Lower Merion Police Dept. did not investigate. To make accountability even more inaccurate, I learned no official inventory was ever made, as required by Orphans Court. The reason was Dr. Barnes felt none would be necessary, since the collection was never to be relocated or sold. An official inventory would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, requiring services of art experts.

I suggested to the Montgomery Co. Commissioners and Judge Ott they should conduct an inventory before the collection was moved. They would collect close to $2 million in filing fees because of the immense value of the collection. They refused to take action, not wanting to assume responsibility. Judge Ott did not allow me to testify why it was needed.

Subsequently, the trustees of the new Barnes Museum paid $600,000 to inventory the collection.

Between administration by the original trustees from Lincoln University, who lost their right to control the collection because they declared bankruptcy, and their replacement board, there was a period where I believe some paintings were lost to the general public forever. When seen by former Barnes students, wherever they may be, these paintings could easily be identified.

Judge Ott also gave the Trustees the right to violate Dr. Barnes’ will by allowing them to sell paintings.

The original charm of the Barnes Art program has been destroyed for me. Still, I recommend a visit to the new show to anyone who can afford it. See it for Art’s sake. I am certain you will find a reward for your effort … the wonder of color and light cannot be diminished.

An Inquirer article by Lita Solis-Cohen on May 26, 1989 indicated, “Twenty-two American paintings from the collection of the late Violette de Mazia, who taught art appreciation at the Barnes Foundation in Merion for 60 years, sold for $2.38 million yesterday at Christie’s auction house in New York. That amount, added to the $5 million paid earlier this month for eight impressionist and modern works and $644,000 paid in April for de Mazia’s furniture and furnishings, brought the proceeds from de Mazia’s estate to more than $8 million.

“De Mazia died in September at the age of 89. She was a longtime assistant to Albert C. Barnes.

“De Mazia stipulated in her will that her estate be used to establish the Violette de Mazia Trust, with the income supporting Barnes Foundation publications, art education and scholarships.”

I contend she did not have ownership to any one of those paintings, or furnishings, though her cause could be considered by some to be just. The new Barnes Museum is the poorer for their loss.

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4 Responses to BARNES COLLECTION: What’s Missing That Shouldn’t Be Missing?

  1. Hello,

    I want to know where should I sell name is DE MAZIA? Art is Wine with pear, apple and cherish fruits. I have print back. Pls give me more detail ur information to where contact phone, adress and email. I live in Jacksonville, fla.

    Thank you,

    December 16, 2012 at 11:05 am

  2. You may want to contact the Violette De Mazia Foundation for more information on this. Email or telephone (610) 971-9960.

    –Tony West
    Managing Editor

    editor @pr
    December 23, 2012 at 2:22 pm

  3. i brought painting by De Mazia painting that has a bottle, a shotglass, a baset with eggs and an apple. Certification number saying that there is only one of all her works. Here are the numbers: 127896.

    Is it real or fake? Thank you.

    Rena Pettie
    November 11, 2014 at 12:58 am

  4. You should check with the Barnes Foundation. It should be able to direct you to someone who would know.

    editor @pr
    November 12, 2014 at 10:17 am

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