Albert C. Barnes

Albert C. Barnes (1872–1951), US chemist, businessman, art collector, writer, educator, and pupil of F. M. Alexander.


Barnes came from a poor working-class area in Philadelphia. He attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, qualifying in 1892. He did not go into practice but trained as a chemist as applied to medicine. Barnes went into business with the German chemist Hermann Hille (1871–1962) in 1899, with whom he invented Argyrol, a silver nitrate antiseptic. In 1908 Barnes went on to form the A. C. Barnes Company and registered the trademark for Argyrol. The company prospered and Argyrol was the main cause of his wealth.

In 1912 Barnes started to collect mainly modern European art. He met Gertrude and Leo Stein (also a pupil of Alexander) in Paris and purchased paintings from them. Later Barnes purchased most of his collection of African Art from the art dealer Paul Guillaume (1891–1934). Barnes’s art collection became part of the The Barnes Foundation, an educational institution, set up in 1922, and which continues to this day.[1] Keen on education he used his collection to sponsor art education. Barnes wrote several books about his theories of art aesthetics. A book of essays, Art and Education (1929–1939), had contributions from John Dewey – who was a friend of his – as well as others.

At the time of his death Barnes’s collection contained over 4,000 objects including over 900 paintings. They included: 181 works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 69 works by Paul Cézanne, 59 works by Henri Matisse, and 46 works by Pablo Picasso.[2]

Connection with Alexander

Barnes most likely started having lessons with Alexander before 1918. Barnes wrote an appreciation of the 1918 edition of Man’s Supreme Inheritance and a reply to a critical review by “R.B.” (Randolph Bourne) in The New Republic of 11 May 1918.[3]

The influence of art upon Barnes’s outlook on Alexander is clear in his appreciation:

The technique employed by Mr Alexander is scientifically sound in that it avails itself of known laws of physiology effected by physical means accepted in modern therapeutics. But like the use of colours in painting, brilliantly successful results are, of course, due in a large measure to that skill and knowledge which comes from long experience and the native sensitivity of the artist.[4]

Caption: Albert C. Barnes in 1940. Photo by Carl Van Vechten.[5]

Albert Coombs Barnes *2 January 1872 – †24 July 1951.


[1] Retrieved 23 April 2020.
[3] Appreciation by Dr. A. C. Barnes of Man’s Supreme Inheritance was first published in an advertising flyer by Methuen & Co. Also published in Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), appendix H, pp. 231–32.
[4] Appreciation by Dr. A. C. Barnes of Man’s Supreme Inheritance in Man’s Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), appendix H, p. 232.
[5] This work is from the Carl Van Vechten Photographs collection at the Library of Congress. According to the library, there are no known copyright restrictions on the use of this work. As the restrictions on this collection expired in 1986, the Library of Congress believes this image is in the public domain. However, the Carl Van Vechten estate has asked that use of Van Vechten's photographs ‘preserve the integrity’ of his work, i.e, that photographs not be colorised or cropped, and that proper credit is given to the photographer.