The late Dr. Albert Barnes gathered together unmatched works of post-impressionist art, including paintings by Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso, Monet and other masters. It has not only been widely recognized as the greatest collection of its kind, but it’s been valued at more than 25 billion dollars.
Dr. Barnes created a very detailed Trust to maintain the collection in a private facility apart from the commercial art “elite,” which he despised. Given the extraordinary value of the collection — both monetarily and artistically — perhaps it should be no surprise that the art elite of Philadelphia have done everything they can to get their hands on the collection.
In fact, Dr. Barnes’ Trust has been the subject of many years of litigation, which has steadily chipped away at Dr. Barnes’ detailed instructions for how his art gallery was to be managed. This culminated in 2004 when a Judge ordered the collection to be moved to the downtown Philadelphia art district, precisely where Dr. Barnes never wanted it to be.
You can read Trial & Heirs’ prior coverage of the controversy here. The controversy has been the subject of a fascinating documentary called The Art of the Steal.
That documentary was the driving force behind this new legal action, based on new evidence which the film-makers uncovered. This included interviews with the former Pennsylvania Attorney General and Governor, both of whom admitted using political pressure and money to change those in charge of the Barnes Trust. They both alluded on camera to how they pressured Lincoln University, who Dr. Barnes had named to manage his Trust, to give up control.
A few days ago, the group of former students, art lovers and other supporters of Dr. Barnes’ vision filed the new legal action in the Montgomery County Orphans’ Court in Pennsylvania. They are trying to reverse the court ruling that permitted the move (which hasn’t happened yet since the new building is still under construction).
The new petition, which you can read in full here, includes the following quote which the former Attorney General made on camera as part of the documentary:
“I don’t know that we were ever as direct as saying [to Lincoln University], ‘We can take this [the Barnes Foundation] away from you.’, because that would take a court to do that, but I had to explain to them that, you know, maybe the Attorney General’s office would have to take some action, involving them that might have to change the complexion of the board. And, whether I said that directly or I implied it, I think they finally got the message.
And when they say … you mentioned … that it was portrayed that I was the bad cop and the Governor was the good cop, the Governor had the money and the Governor had some money he was willing to add onto it. So that automatically made him a good cop.
There was some money proposed for Lincoln to offset some of the perhaps perceived losses that they might have.”
The petition seeks to reopen the case and asks for a private attorney general to be appointed, since the Attorney General of Pennsylvania has the legal authority to protect a trust like this. Yet, in prior court proceedings, that office certainly appeared to do everything but try to protect the Trust and the expressed wishes of Dr. Barnes.
In prior articles, we had wondered why the Judge did not appoint a “trustee ad litem” or a “guardian ad litem,” which would have allowed someone not involved in the controversy to have standing to present new evidence, so the court could have a full and fair trial about what really happened. Rather than doing that, the Judge denied legal standing to the Friends of the Barnes Foundation (meaning he felt they didn’t have enough of a legal interest in the trust to legally participate in the litigation). So he closed the case.
Will the Friends of the Barnes Foundation succeed in reopening the case and allowing Dr. Barnes’ vision to be upheld this time?
Sadly, it’s a long shot at this point, since the Friends group tried this a few years ago and failed. Still, they are committed to fighting to preserve the art collection in the manner that Dr. Barnes intended. Hopefully, the court will review their evidence this time around.
By Danielle and Andy Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of the national television special, Trial & Heirs: Protect Your Family Fortune! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click her to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update. You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.