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The Artist Who Launched Albert Barnes' Collection With A Trip To Paris and $20,000

William Glackens. Cape Cod Pier, 1908. Oil on canvas, 26 x 32 in. (66 x 81.3 cm). Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Nova Southeastern University; Gift of an Anonymous Donor


Albert C. Barnes and William James Glackens, circa 1920.
Credit Unidentified photographer. / The Barnes Foundation Archives and Special Collections, Merion, Pennsylvania.
The Barnes Foundation Archives and Special Collections, Merion, Pennsylvania.
Albert Barnes (left) asked his friend William Glackens (right) to find "modern" art for him in Paris in 1911. With $20,000 from Barnes, he created the genesis of the Barnes Collection.

Among those who have shaped Philadelphia’s cultural landscape is someone who not only created his own art, but also influenced the development of the now-renowned Barnes collection in the early 20th century. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more on realist painter and Barnes confidant William Glackens (1870-1938).

Listen to more about the story of painter William Glackens.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Glackens was an illustrator for newspapers and magazines, and a painter.   He moved to New York, traveled to Europe, and always painted the world around him, says art historian Avis Berman - from gritty street scenes to women shopping. His style evolved, as he experimented with brushwork and brighter colors.  

"Someone made a comment – theses paintings are so bright, your early works, and he said, 'They’re like mud; life’s not like that, there is color in life.' He wanted a truth – first a narrative truth about what people were doing, now going towards an artistic truth."

"The most valuable single educational factor to me has been my frequent association with a life-long friend who combines greatness as an artist with a big man's mind."--Albert C. Barnes

In 1911, his friend from Central High School, Albert Barnes, gave him $20,000 to go to Paris to help Barnes build his art collection. Glackens came back with 33 paintings and works on paper, "including the great Van Gogh portrait The Postman, Picasso's Young Woman Holding a Cigarette - an extremely tough picture - and a Cezanne, a Renoir, and many more. So it really is the beginning..."

As to why Glackens himself is not better known, Berman– who has put together a comprehensive survey of his work -  says he’s not been given due consideration.

Credit The Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation
William James Glackens (American, 1870–1938). Street Cleaners, Washington Square, circa 1910. 25 1?4 x 30 inches (64.1 x 76.2 cm). Oil on canvas. The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia and Merion, PA

"People saw him as an imitator of Renoir...and I really didn’t think it was all about Renoir. I see more diversity and more depth, but also a lot of his work has been hidden away in museums and private collections."

Over the years, Barnes bought more than 60 works by Glackens for his collection.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.