After years of wrangling, a major step has been taken toward moving the quirky Barnes Foundation and its fabled collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art from a cozy Philadelphia suburb to an urban site near the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The foundation announced on Friday that the executive committee of Lincoln University, a historically black school that nominates four of the five Barnes board members, agreed to support the move. But because the agreement violates the will of Albert C. Barnes, who created the foundation, the committee needs the blessing of the Montgomery County Orphans' Court and the full Lincoln board. Later this year or early next year, Stanley Ott, an Orphans' Court judge, is expected to consider a petition filed by the Barnes Foundation.
For more than a decade the Barnes has been sinking into ever-increasing financial trouble, and its directors say it is on the brink of bankruptcy. To save the Barnes, 30 Philadelphia-area individuals and entities have pledged a total of $150 million to finance the move from Merion, Pa., near Philadelphia, and to endow the institution.
"This is a great victory," said Bernard C. Watson, president of the Barnes Foundation. "If it happens, we would really be expanding Dr. Barnes' philosophy. Not only would we be able to strengthen the Barnes as an educational institution, but the collection would be available to hundreds of thousands of people."
But Frank C. Gihan, chairman of Lincoln's board, warned in a telephone interview that until the entire board meets Saturday, the plan remains tentative. At issue is the diminished control Lincoln would have over the Barnes. Under the agreement worked out on Friday, the Barnes board would add 10 members, and Lincoln could nominate only a third of the board.