The Barnes Foundation is a gem of a collection in Philadelphia put together by Dr. Albert C. Barnes in the early 20th century as a space to stimulate art appreciation. Using his personal collection amassed between 1912 and 1951, Barnes believed in teaching people about art through their visual relationships and has a forerunner in public arts education, it’s only fitting that the Foundation joins the myriad of institutions placing their collections online.
That Barnes Collection Online is a fantastic resource for fans of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting. All the big names are represented from Renoir to Monet, Cézanne to Picasso. The collection is impressive not only as a free art history resource, but also by the way the images are organized. Taking a page from museums like the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, which allows you to search item by Crayon color, the Barnes’ online art database is arranged to mirror Dr. Barnes’ teaching philosophy. So far, over 2,000 items from the collection have made their way online, with 1,429 images available for free download.
Of course, you can simply type in the name of the artist you’re looking for, but it’s also possible to filter by colors, lines, light, and space. So while you discover some interesting art, you can also think about the elements of art within each piece. Going a step further, once you click on an individual image, you can not only learn basic information, including copyright, bibliography, and exhibition history, but more about the work in context.
Each piece also has a tab that shows you how it’s displayed within the Barnes Foundation, in addition to links to the other artworks that surround it. These displays are known as ensembles and were meticulously curated by Dr. Barnes himself to “draw out visual similarities between objects we don’t normally think of together.” In keeping with this theme, it’s also possible to view works that are “visually similar” to any item in the collection, sliding a scale between “more similar” and “more surprising.”
Thus, the Barnes Collection Online becomes a teaching tool and extension of the Foundation’s original philosophy, allowing art lovers from around the world to enjoy this eclectic collection from the comforts of their home.