Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dear Great Book Guru,  I was at Metropolitan Bistro on this past snowy weekend and, to my delight,  it was filled with Sea Cliff friends eager to enjoy a cozy dinner close to home….the Warrens, the D’Amicos,  the Kennedy-Hansmanns, the Glennons, the Kavanaghs, and the Harrigan-Fleishmans- what a great night! Of course, at every table conversation turned to books. A few people mentioned reading about a controversial museum in Philadelphia.  Sound familiar?  Fan of the Metropolitan Bistro

Dear Fan of the Metro, It does sound like a lovely evening and I do know the book: ART HELD HOSTAGE by John Anderson. It is a fascinating story of the Barnes Foundation, founded in the early 1920’s by a wildly successful physician- turned tycoon- turned art collector, Alfred Barnes.  By the time of his death in 1951, Barnes had amassed a huge collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings- 89 Renoirs (his favorite artist), 69 Cezannes, 60 Matisses, and 44 Picassos plus a smattering of earlier works by El Greco, Rubens, and other Renaissance painters. The collection is valued now at over fifty billion dollars. The book details how Barnes’s wishes were thwarted after his death.  Racial tensions,  political corruption and overall greed  intersected to a bring this  fabled institution to the edge of bankruptcy.  The characters, all richly drawn, include Barnes himself, his assistant Violette deMazia,   Richard Glanton,  president of the Foundation and high-powered attorney,  Niara Sudarkasa, the embattled president of  struggling Lincoln College- America’s oldest black college and  heir to the collection-plus a coterie of  not-so-charitable foundations, law firms and politicians.  You might consider a field trip to the Barnes’s new home in downtown Philadelphia  after reading this book…or not.  Recommended!

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