Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Barnes Foundation Update

Barnes_foundation_2 The Barnes Foundation is an "educational art institution in Lower Merion Township, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania * * *.  It was founded in 1922 by Dr. Albert C. Barnes, who made a fortune by co-developing an early antimicrobial drug, Argyrol.  Today, the Foundation possesses more than 2500 objects, including 800 paintings estimated to be worth more than $2 billion. * * *  In order to preserve the institution's identity, Barnes set out detailed terms of its operation in an indenture of trust to be honored in perpetuity after his death. These included limiting public admission to two days a week so the school could use the art collection for student study, and prohibitions against lending works in the collection, touring the collection, and presenting touring exhibitions."  Wikipedia, Barnes Foundation.

In what is a rather long and complicated story, the trustees decided that the building housing the collection need repair which

required breaking some terms of the indenture, and from 1993 to 1995 a selection of 83 French Impressionist paintings were exhibited on a world tour, the proceeds of which were to be used to pay for the reconstruction. 

Unfortunately, a number of financial irregularities arose. Between the renovations, these irregularities, and the associated legal expenses, the financial situation of the Barnes declined, in spite of millions of dollars in revenue from the painting tour. * * *

On September 24, 2002, the Foundation announced that it would petition the Montgomery County Orphans' Court (which oversees its operations) to allow it to disregard two of the terms of Dr. Barnes's indenture as per Dr. Albert C. Barnes will: 1) limited the board of trustees to five members of which Lincoln University, PA was granted authority to name four of the five members, and 2) that the works in the collection must remain in perpetuity in the gallery in Lower Merion. The Foundation argued that it needed to expand the board of trustees to fifteen members to make fundraising viable, and that for the same reason it needed to relocate the gallery from Lower Merion to a site in Philadelphia on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. In its brief to the court, the Foundation stated that donors had proved to be reluctant to commit financial resources to the Barnes unless the gallery were to become more accessible to the public. On December 15, 2004, after a two-year legal battle (which included an examination of the Foundation's financial situation), Judge Stanley Ott of the Montgomery County Orphans' Court ruled that the Foundation could relocate. * * *

Former students of The Barnes Foundation have expressed concern that the new gallery will be a full-scale museum rather than a school. They continue to protest to the trustees and public officials. The Foundation has repeatedly insisted that the education program will be preserved in the new gallery, which will continue to be the site of the Foundation's courses. * * *

After Judge Ott's decision in 2004, a group called Friends of the Barnes Foundation was formed consisting of former students, neighbors and art lovers from around the region and the world to try and find a way to keep the collection together in its home in Merion.  * * *

The Barnes Foundation is moving ahead with its plans to move its gallery collection to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway * * *.  The Friends of the Barnes Foundation and Montgomery County have filed briefs in Montgomery County Orphan's Court to open the hearings that allowed the move. (February 29, 2008) They had hoped to persuade Judge Ott to reopen the case that gave permission to the Foundation to move the collection because of the changed circumstances in the County.

On May 15, 2008 Judge Ott published an opinion dismissing the request of both the Friends of the Barnes Foundation and the Montgomery County Commissioners to reopen the case due to lack of standing.

For additional analysis of this case, see Neil E. Hendershot, "No Standing" for Barnes Foundation PetitionersPA Elder, Estate & Fiduciary Law Blog, May 19, 2008.


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