THE DEVIL AND DR. BARNES: Portrait of an American Art Collector by Howard Greenfeld

THE DEVIL AND DR. BARNES: Portrait of an American Art Collector

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Greenfeld's biographies are, like the exhibits in Madame Tussaud's famed London establishment, obsessively detailed but eerily lifeless. Having produced waxwork images of Giacomo Puccini, Enrico Caruso, Marc Chagall, and Pablo Picasso, Greenfeld now turns his attention to Albert C. Barnes, the irascible founder of Philadelphia's Barnes Foundation. The author's delving into the background of this monumentally unpleasant art collector and self-styled ""authority"" has been seriously curtailed by the Foundation's refusal to open its files to him and by the refusal of most of Barnes' associates to be interviewed. In the past, research, not literary skill, has been Greenfeld's major strength; one could almost hear the file cards riffling behind his prose. Here, however, the lack of original research material has produced a biography even less lively than earlier efforts. Forced to rely on previously published accounts of Barnes' wranglings with just about anyone who refused to kowtow to his whims, Greenfeld is unable--or perhaps unwilling--to suggest the psychological roots of his subject's prickly character. That the promoter of Argyrol, a substitute for silver nitrate, suffered from a virulent sense of inferiority is clear, but there are few indications in the text of the sources of this neurosis. There is also little investigation of Barnes' personal life. His childless marriage to a wealthy WASP heiress is passed over in a few noncommittal phrases. There are hints about a possible ""relationship"" with one of his female associates, but nothing comes of this suggestion. By and large, not only Barnes but those with whom he came in contact--wife, antagonists, associates such as Leo Stein, Henri Matisse, Bertrand Russell--remain little more than ciphers. A satisfactory biography remains to be written of the man Henry McBride said provoked a ""paralyzing terror"" in the world of modern art.

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 1987
Publisher: Viking