Beyond Barnes

Albert C. Barnes set the ball in motion for a major Modern Art movement in Philadelphia. Exciting local collection features work by Barnes’s students and one scrappy wanna-be who helped defined a generation of artists. 

A few years after Albert C. Barnes’ death, a collective of Philadelphia artists created “Group 55” to rather pick up where he left off. These talents sought recognition for their efforts to reject what they’d been taught in academia, and to embrace the new expressionism that was trending in NYC with names like de Kooning, Pollack, and Picasso.

The artists of Group ‘55 — named for the year 1955, when it was founded — created a similar movement in Philadelphia, with our own themes, colors, and imagery. These talents shared Barnes’ view that art history as a discipline stifled both self-expression and art appreciation. Instead, they sought to convey primal emotions and universal truths in their works.

East Falls resident George Anderson has been buying Group ‘55 paintings for decades, stockpiling over a 1,000 in his entire collection to date. Like Barnes, he came to buying art later in life — George was an architect when he started going to auctions with a friend who was buying antique furniture. He found himself drawn to the paintings, and soon he was an expert on the hallmarks of exceptional art.

Many of the artists George has collected have paintings in the Barnes, the Smithsonian, Philadelphia’s Museum of Art… They all lived in locally, either in Philly or in towns along City Ave like Overbrook, Havertown, and Merion. Except for one artist, they all had enjoyed the great fortune of studying under Albert Barnes himself in his prestigious school.

But not Sam Freid. His efforts to convince Barnes to enroll him went on for years, well documented in letters that George recently dug up at the Barnes Foundation’s archives. Freid pleads and pleads, Barnes dodges and deflects. Eventually, a creepy misunderstanding develops after something that happened at an event they were both attending, and Barnes snaps. In a letter dated July 12, 1948, he angrily questioned Freid’s mental state.

Was it Freid’s talent or temperament that kept him out of Barnes’s academy?  You decide….

George Anderson presents works by seven former students of Albert C. Barnes and colleagues of Sam Freid in Group ’55. In true Barnes fashion, George will intermingle works by Sam Freid with the other artists. Can you spot them? It’s not always obvious: Freid’s paintings range from wildly flamboyant to stark and intimate, in a variety of different styles and mediums.

Copies of Freid’s letters (and Barnes’s responses) provide further insight into both men’s personalities, and a fascinating peek at Art School admin in the 1920’s. Was Freid too political? Could he not take a hint? Did Barnes just have something personal against him?

Despite his issues with Barnes, Freid became an important figure in Philadelphia’s Abstract Expressionist movement. He taught at PAFA, the Art Institute, and Fleisher Museum. Via Group ’55, Freid lectured and exhibited throughout Southeast Pennsylvania with many pieces featured in George’s clever arrangement – sneak peeks this fall, with the full exhibit planned for 2019 as part of West Laurel Hill’s 150th anniversary next September.

Don’t miss your chance to witness an exciting time when Modern Art came of age in Philadelphia, heralded by Barnes through his ground-breaking students. And one pesky outlier who relentlessly pursued his own vision to help found a movement here that defined a generation.

The Conservatory at West Laurel Hill
225 Belmont Ave, Bala Cynwyd
Gates open 7am – 6pm (May – Oct); 7am – 5pm (Nov- Apr)
Voted Best Cemetery by Main Line News

About George Anderson’s Collection:
East Falls resident George Anderson has been buying Group 55 paintings for decades, stockpiling over 1,000 to date. All artists lived in locally, either in Philly or in towns along City Ave like Overbrook, Havertown, and Merion. This will be George’s first show at West Laurel Hill, and the debut of many prominent pieces that have never been shown publicly before. 

 

2 Comments

  • janet graves

    Hi Carolyn:
    I am the daughter of artist
    Charles R. Bechtle, member
    of Group 55. I just came across George’s article and am interested in meeting him to see his collection and find out more about the exhibition in 2019.
    My father left Phila the year I graduated high school, 1972, then split his time between
    Stamford CT and Seal Harbor ME.
    My father continued to paint well into his 80’s driven by his passion for abstract art and his love of
    Mt Desert Island ME.
    He passed away Dec 19, 2014 at age 90. His estate is not yet settled though the majority of his work has been distributed to my brother Reid Bechtle and I. The Barnes Foundation has requested paintings for their collection which we will begin to gather by years end.
    If you would, please pass on my note to George.

    • Carolyn Fillmore

      Hello and thank you for your comment and this really interesting info. We are delighted to pass your info along to George and also look forward to perhaps speaking with you for another Group 55 story on our blog. We also print a monthly newspaper (this post was the front page story for August), would love to send you a copy. Thanks again, hopefully we’ll be in touch soon.

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