The Barnes Foundation Debuts Its First-Ever Photography Exhibition

The 170 vintage images comprising Live and Life Will Give You Pictures chronicle a France swept up in transformation from the late-19th to mid-20th centuries...

The remarkable collection of French modernist paintings that decorate the walls of The Barnes Foundation arose from a time when modernization was transforming Paris and its countryside. As that happened, artists like Picasso and Matisse experimented with new techniques that told stories of soaring skylines, burgeoning industry and a society emboldened by loosening mores.

Live and Life Will Give You Pictures, the Barnes’ first-ever photography exhibition, presents a clearer look at this time of rapid change and offers a history lesson on photography’s impact on everything from advertising to journalism and even the rise of celebrity.

Fast Facts

  • Live and Life Will Give You Pictures runs October 8 through January 9 in the Barnes’ Roberts Gallery
  • A ticket to the permanent collection includes free access to the special exhibition
  • The exhibition includes 170 black-and-white photographs taken by Ilse Bing, Edgar Degas, Man Ray and more
  • An itinerary of events allow guests to experience the exhibition in a unique way
Masterworks of French Photography at the Barnes Foundation
(Photo by C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia)
Browse more than 170 photographs at this marquee exhibition at the Barnes Foundation.

The Layout

Unlike most special exhibitions at the Barnes that are spread out in an open floor plan, Live and Life Will Give You Pictures unfolds in a series of eight salon-like galleries.

There are 170 black and white photographs within the exhibition, all taken between 1890 and 1950 by French photographers as well as photographers who worked extensively in France.

That means you’ll be face to face with images by folks like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ilse Bing, Eugène Atget, Edgar Degas and the Bronx’s own Man Ray.

The exhibition begins with late-19th-century photographer Atget, whose early works show a Paris untouched by modernization. Making your way around the room, you finally come upon images by Brassaï that depict the introduction of electricity in the City of Lights.

With the lights turned on, Paris and the French countryside moved full speed ahead. That’s all documented in the remaining seven galleries.

Masterworks of French Photography at the Barnes Foundation
(Photo by C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia)
Featured photographers include…

  • Edgar Degas
  • Ilse Bing
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Man Ray
  • And more

Exhibition Highlights

Each of the eight galleries follow a different, yet related, theme.

The room themed “Street Life” includes poignant images of youth playing on steps along the Seine, dapper fellows cruising through parks and crowd scenes taken from the Eiffel Tower that evoke Claude Monet’s famous “Boulevard des Capucines.”

“Leisure” brings to life a rising middle class. Look out for Ilse Bing’s snapshots of cancan dancers inside Moulin Rouge and Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Sunday on the Banks of the Marne.” The view of a group of friends picnicking on the edge of a river uncannily mirrors “Group of Figures” by Georges Seurat, which currently hangs in the Barnes permanent collection.

Selfie lovers will enjoy “Celebrity,” a collection of pictures that show how photography took self-promotion and status-building to a whole new level. Here you’ll find photos of both Picasso and Bresson in their studios, and Man Ray’s scandalous image of artist Lee Miller liplocked with another woman.

That only scratches the surface. Other galleries explore early photojournalism, the labor movement as well as featuring photos with a decidedly artistic bent.

The best way to take in Live and Life Will Give You Pictures is to move counterclockwise between the galleries. Wall placards offer in-depth descriptions of the rooms’ themes and prominent photographs, but for a deeper look, join the daily free exhibition tour. The one-hour walkaround is led by an in-the-know docent and departs daily at 11 a.m.

Masterworks of French Photography at the Barnes Foundation
(Photo by C. Smyth for Visit Philadelphia)
The exhibit continues through January 9 with special events throughout the exhibition’s run, too.

Special Events

During the exhibit’s run, the Barnes presents an itinerary of special programming that gives guests a chance to experience the exhibition on a more engaged level.

The Young Professionals Night on October 21 invites folks to dress in black and white for a classy autumnal fête featuring cocktails, light bites and a stroll through the galleries with intrepid local leaders.

Later in the fall, a series of guest lectures delve into the history of photography, analyzing its impact in early France and tracing its technological and artistic roots. A discussion and screening of Jean Renoir’s Une Partie de Campagne takes place on November 21.

For more information on these and future events, go here.

The Barnes Foundation
(Photo By R. Kennedy For Visit Philadelphia)
Access to this groundbreaking exhibition is included in the price of general admission to the museum.

Exhibition Tickets

You can purchase tickets to Live and Life Will Give You Pictures online.

Admission to the permanent collection includes free access to the exhibition. General admission is $25 for adults, $23 for seniors and $10 for youth and students. Members, as always, get in free.

Be sure to check out this groundbreaking exhibition at the Barnes Foundation.

Live and Life Will Give You Pictures at the Barnes Foundation

When:October 8-January 9
Where:Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Cost:$25, adults; $23, seniors; $10, youth/students



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