The Art of the Steal

Published on 6th April 2016 by

A 2009 documentary film about the controversial moving of the Barnes Foundation, an art collection valued at more than $25 billion, from Pennsylvania to Philadelphia. The relocation of the art was controversial because the benefactor of the art collection Albert C. Barnes had personally selected the location of the gallery, and the move was instigated by people from Philadelphia who were heirs to people who were enemies of Barnes when he was alive.

The will of Barnes established the Barnes Foundation with some very strict rules against ever moving the collection or any of the individual pieces away from his specified location and should not serve the primary purpose as being a profit making museum for the general public but to be used primarily for the teaching of art. A decades long tussle over the art ensued and it is now located 5 miles away in the center of Philadelphia and used as a tourist attraction and money generator for the city, against Barnes’ wishes.

The film presents a timeline of the great battle over the art and how lawyers successfully overcame the clauses in the will to get their own way. Opinion on the film and the dispute is split, with some believing that Barnes’ will should have been respected and that the art has been stolen by government and politicians, whilst others argue that the great wealth in the collection should be displayed for the benefit of the city and the public, it is a debate which continues to divide public opinion.


The messy fight over the Barnes Collection was written about by John Anderson for his book Art Held Hostage: The Battle over the Barnes Collection, available in paperback, hardback, and on kindle.

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