55 reasons to love local art! Thanks to an East Falls collector following in Albert Barnes’ footsteps.
OMG, guys. Turns out, East Falls is sitting on what may be the biggest collection of art by friends & associates of Dr. Albert C Barnes. And thanks to George Anderson, these spectacular paintings are making the rounds at various neighborhood events this year.
Albert Barnes, of course, is Philadelphia’s most famous art collector and educator — he’s known for thumbing his nose at the art “establishment” while amassing the greatest private collection of post/impressionist and early modern paintings ever. And bully for him: he spotted masterpieces that the art world at the time had been too snobbish to acknowledge.
A few years after Barnes’ death, a collective of Philadelphia artists created “Group 55” to kinda pick up where he left off. These talents sought recognition for their individual efforts to move away from what they’d been taught in academia, and instead 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 — 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. They all had enjoyed the great fortune of watching and collaborating with Albert Barnes himself.
We’re beyond thrilled that George debuted an exhibit of his favorite Group 55 paintings for Alden Park’s Kenilworth lobby last July. George’s display mimicked Barne’s style assembling art as an intuitive flow, as opposed to grouping by artists or periods. “It’s like the exhibit itself is an artwork, too,” raved a guest who was also impressed by George’s command of Group 55’s artists and themes.
Regarding his collection, George had this to offer:
Much has been written and said about the struggles between Dr. Barnes and the local art establishment. What has yet to be unveiled is the cohesion between him and the artists who took interest in his collection. Represented here today are some of those artists.
Samuel Freid and his wife Hilda — Samuel Freid’s oil and gouache paintings depicted urban scenes, while his pencil sketches focused on the emotional lives of coal miners. Hilda sketched with ink and scratched crayon. Both probed the “subconscious jungle instinct” in contemporary life.
Abraham Hankins –Born in Russia, schooled at PAFA & the Philadelphia Museum College of Art. Modernist, moody painter who experimented in Cubism.
Norman Carton — Abstract Expressionist painter who lived in Philly, was schooled in Paris, and worked in NYC. Designed hand-painted fabrics featured in Harper’s Bazaar. The paint on his works is often so thick that they need to be stored with extra cushion.
Jane Piper — Considered one of Philadelphia’s finest painters, and for years an influential teacher at the University of the Arts. Piper’s style has been described as “space structured by color, using still-life motifs.”
Charles Ronald Bechtle — Bechtle’s abstract (and semi-abstract) style was heavily influenced by the works of Rembrandt, Goya, and Matisse. He used watercolor, crayon, pastel, and pencil in his art. He was the president of Group 55.
Hubert Mesibov –A surrealist, abstract impressionist, and landscape artist. Along with co-inventing an innovative print process in the 1930’s, Mesibov had a significant impact on American art with his vibrant paintings. His works capture the energy of a particular time and place thru his personal vision.
William Glackens — Glackens attended Central High School with Albert Barnes, and when the two renewed their friendship years later, Glackens encouraged Barnes’ appreciation of modern French painting. In fact, Glackens went on a buying spreed for his buddy one year, bringing back Cezannes, Van Goghs, Picassos, Renoirs… Glackens was a gifted artist, himself. His works reflect his zest for life and an arsenal of sophisticated techniques.
We’re downright verklempt to have such remarkable art shown together in NW Philadelphia again. Welcome home, Group 55ers!