On the second day of the second week I had my first day at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, housed in a beautiful 1930s Art Deco building designed especially for the collection. The luxurious feel of the materials and the geometric shapes of the building make the remarks of The Times that it was ‘the purest example of [the architect’s] work’ quite understandable. Robert Atkins, as was his name, was one of Britain’s leading architects at the time.

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Hattie and Henry Barber were working their way up in society during the late 19th and early 20th century. While they did not have a great interest in art or music themselves, they discussed founding an institute where others could prosper in their learning. After Henry’s death, Hattie made sure their plans would be realised and in 1932 she established the Barber ‘for the Study and encouragement of art and music’.

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The Music auditorium, placed centrally in the building.

 

What I found especially interesting was learning and thinking about how the wishes and will of a founder or benefactor can be reflected in a collection. Hattie Barber had decided in 1930 that the institute should only collect the finest of art, which means that today, the collection is small but significant with works by Turner, van Gogh, Delacroix, Renoir and many more. She also decided that decorative arts were not of interest to the collection, meaning the institute have very few of that category of objects. It was also determined by Hattie that no works prior to 1900 should be considered for the collection. Trying to work with that kind of limitation today, the institute decided that since Hattie decided this in 1930, no work less than 30 years old should be considered for the collection. That way, they can work more freely when choosing art works while still work in the spirit of their founder. More updates on my work here soon!

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