Movie Details

Born into a working-class family in Philadelphia, Albert C. Barnes was a man who through hard work and determination became a doctor and medical researcher, founding a successful pharmaceutical firm that made him a multimillionaire. As his fortune grew, Barnes developed a taste for art and in time assembled one of the world's most remarkable private collections, featuring original paintings by Van Gogh, Renoir, Picasso, Cézanne, and many other important artists. Barnes relied on his own instincts rather than the advice of experts when he bought paintings, and he had little use for the pretentious attitudes of Philadelphia's art collectors and high society; the animosity between Barnes and the city's art establishment grew to the point that in 1922 he opened the Barnes Foundation, a private gallery where he kept his collection rather than share it with institutions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Barnes Foundation was open by invitation only, and the doctor preferred to have his collection seen by students and serious art lovers rather than those he felt didn't appreciate the work. Barnes died in 1951, and made strict provisions in his will that his collection was not to be sold, lent to other museums, or removed from the grounds of the Barnes Foundation. Lincoln University, a traditionally African-American college, was appointed to oversee the foundation's collection. But after the death of Barnes' protégée Violette de Mazia in 1988, Lincoln University's trustees took full control of the collection, now estimated to be worth 25 billion dollars, and a number of individuals and organizations inexperienced in the world of art laid hands upon the Barnes archive. The Art of the Steal is a documentary by Don Argott that explores how greed, political power, and good intentions colluded to violate Albert C. Barnes' wishes and scatter his collection across the globe. The Art of the Steal was an official selection at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi