The Barber Institute contains one of the finest small collections of European art in the UK. The works have been purchased to fit Lady Barber’s criteria that everything should be of ‘that standard of quality required by the National Gallery or Wallace Collection’. Careful consideration has also been given to making sure that the works provide a comprehensive coverage of the great national schools and the different genres and styles. The outcome is a collection which includes prime examples of the work of many of the greatest artists including Botticelli, Giovanni Bellini, Veronese, Rubens, Van Dyck, Poussin, Claude, Gainsborough, Turner, Ingres, Manet, Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Magritte.
The Barber Institute is perhaps best known for its fine collection of French 19th-century paintings, with a series of masterpieces by the Impressionists including Edouard Manet’s Portrait of Carolus-Duran and Degas’ fascinating image of Jockeys Before the Race (pictured right). The Post-Impressionists are also well represented with works by Gauguin — Bathers at Tahiti and Toulouse-Lautrec — A Woman Seated in a Garden. Earlier landscapes by Gustave Courbet — The Sea-Arch at Etretat, and others by the Barbizon school, complete the coverage of the French school.
The Barber is also the home of an important group of late medieval and Renaissance panel paintings, the most significant of which is perhaps Simone Martini’s moving portrayal of Saint John the Baptist. Outstanding too is Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist, as well as a very fine group of Venetian paintings beginning with Giovanni Bellini’s Saint Jerome in the Wilderness. Bassano’s Adoration of the Magi marks the next generation of Venetian artist followed by Veronese, represented by his monumental Visitation.
The later Old Master painters are represented by a series of key works. From the 17th century there are masterpieces by Claude — A Pastoral Landscape, Van Dyck’s Ecce Homo and Frans Hals’ A Portrait of a Man Holding a Skull. The Barber has also purchased a series of outstanding works by lesser-known artists who, in some cases, are not otherwise represented in British collections. Evaristo Baschenis’s Still Life with Musical Instruments, for example, is an astonishing tour de force. Works by Matthias Stom and Johan Christian Dahl illustrate how an eye for quality can lead to the purchase of significant works which can expand our horizons.