Scope and Content Note
These records are interesting in many ways: as reflections of a very colorful man, as a history of an exciting era in the art world, and as the chronicle of an artist trying to make ends meet.
George Grey Barnard was a passionate man who was involved in many different arenas. The records of his collecting are fascinating in that they reveal a side of museums mostly unknown to people: how they acquired what they have. Barnard corresponded with museums, often desperately trying to sell his sculpture and his collections. The records of his Cloister Collections, one of which found a home at the Metropolitan Museum's Cloisters and the other at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, provides a rich background to two current museum treasures.
Barnard himself was interesting. His writings were flowery and passionate, often containing references to divine inspirations and righteous missions. He often was consumed in one activity or another, such as bringing a live turkey as a guest of honor to a vegetarian Thanksgiving feast, or offering twelve museums "first rights" to a collection of medieval objects he was selling. In debt most of his life, Barnard often was scurrying to avoid creditors and bankers. His magical personality, fame as an artist, and influential friends rescued him in times of difficulty, as is evidenced in his financial papers and his personal and business correspondence.
Portraying his role as an artist, Barnard's papers regarding his Lincoln sculpture are thrilling. His correspondence with his patrons, his casting foundry, and his models provide insight to the intricacies of sculpture production. The row over portraying Lincoln - whether strong and idealistic as Saint-Gaudens sculpted him, or gangly, emotional and human as did Barnard - sparked a controversy in the art world which is yet unresolvable. What is the mission of art and the artist? Throughout his papers Barnard's philosophy was apparent: he was gifted and felt responsible for honoring his Maker with his art, and he felt needy of evoking pathos towards injured or less-fortunate souls. This attitude of Barnard, when blended with his incessant pecuniary pressures and scheming, reflect a delightfully unpredictable man whose papers are seldom dull and often surprising.