One of the nation's richest troves of Impressionist and Postimpressionist art is moving to downtown Philadelphia now that its trustees have won court permission to leave their...

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PHILADELPHIA — One of the nation’s richest troves of Impressionist and Postimpressionist art is moving to downtown Philadelphia now that its trustees have won court permission to leave their hard-to-visit suburban gallery, a legacy of the collection’s eccentric founder.

Trustees of the Barnes Foundation had argued for two years that they should be allowed to move the collection of Renoirs, Cezannes, Matisses and Picassos because decades of limited attendance and high costs in Lower Merion Township have nearly bankrupted the foundation.

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On Monday, Montgomery County Judge Stanley Ott agreed, saying a new facility more accessible to tourists in the heart of Philadelphia might be the only way to save the foundation. Other possible solutions, including selling land and lesser art from the collection, wouldn’t raise more than $20 million, he said.

“History and the evidence presented at these hearings showed this amount would not halt the foundation’s downward financial spiral,” he wrote.

The new site on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway now holds a youth-detention center that will be razed by the end of next year, mayor John F. Street said yesterday.

The current gallery is loved for its intimacy but is difficult to visit because of restrictions imposed by township officials and the will of the late Dr. Albert Barnes, who made a fortune in pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.



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He opened his 23-room gallery in 1925 to display Impressionist masterpieces and thousands of other paintings, African carvings, Navajo textiles, Greek and Roman ceramics and other pieces.

When he died in a 1951 car crash, his will specified that the collection be kept forever in Lower Merion, paintings never be sold or moved, admission be strictly limited, and his endowment be invested only in conservative, low-yielding government securities.

The collection is open to the public only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and no more than 400 people may visit each day. Tickets are available only by reservation and sell out months in advance. Onsite parking is limited and the township won’t let visitors park on the street.

Traditionalists fought the move, saying it would destroy a unique setting and violate Barnes’ wish that the collection be primarily used as a teaching tool for the foundation’s art school.

Ott acknowledged that some would see the move to Philadelphia as “an outrageous violation of the donor’s trust,” but said archival materials convinced him that Barnes expected the collection to have greater exposure than it has received.

Three philanthropies promised to help raise $100 million for a new gallery near the Philadelphia Museum of Art plus $50 million to establish an endowment if the court approved the move.