Though I have lived in the Philadelphia region all my life I've never visited the world-renowned Barnes Foundation collection of priceless art situated in suburban Philadelphia at the gateway to the area's tony Main Line.
So, since the Barnes will be moving to Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 2012 (and since it will be closing its doors at its present location at the beginning of 2011) we decided to visit the Barnes this past week.
Mind you, it's not easy getting into the Barnes.
The place sits in a residential neighborhood, reservations must be made in advance, admission for two is $30.00 and parking is limited. Plus, it costs $15.00 to reserve a place in the Foundation's parking lot.
Still, we thought we'd make the effort to see the collection in its original setting just as the late Dr. Albert C. Barnes wanted it to be seen.
Why is the collection so important?
Quite simply, this is one of the finest collections of nineteenth and twentieth-century French painting in the world. An extraordinary number of masterpieces by Renoir, Cézanne and Matisse provide a depth of work by these artists unavailable elsewhere. And did we mention Picasso, Manet, Goya. El Greco, Van Gogh, Monet and Gauguin? They are all represented in the collection as well.
Today, the Foundation possesses more than 2500 objects, including 800 paintings estimated to be worth about $25 billion. Here you will see 181 works by Renoir alone, plus 69 by Cézanne, and 59 by Matisse.
You will not see as many Renoirs anywhere else on earth.
This is why people come to the Barnes from all over the world.
It's breathtaking. It's a visual feast. And it can all be a bit overwhelming.
The walls here are covered -- almost from top to bottom -- with great masterpieces. The paintings are hung one on top of another and/or side by side in a manner stipulated by Dr. Barnes himself.
You will walk from room to room (almost as if you're in someone's private mansion) and simply be enveloped by great art, everywhere, all around you.
So, don't expect museum quality lighting.
And don't expect this to be anything like an actual art museum (though there are live and audio tours available for an extra fee).
But do know that you most assuredly will find it all unforgettable.
And do know that it's definitely worth a visit.
BTW: The surrounding grounds, garden and arboretum are also ravishing, especially this time of the year.
We highly recommend a visit. But, remember: Allow yourself at least a full morning or afternoon to truly savor this treasure trove.