Lynn O’Neal, retired opthamologist and charter member of Lawrence Central Rotary, told a story of a chance encounter with fascinating “small world” coincidences attached to it.
The story begins with Lynn’s Navy ROTC scholarship to medical school. After twelves years of active duty and four years in the reserves, he was eager to meet old friends at the 2015 Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, PA. While exploring the city, he and his wife Debbie happened to stumble upon the Barnes Foundation, a private collection of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modern art.
Intrigued by the fact that the collection was little known, Lynn did some research and discovered that the art was acquired in Europe during the Depression by a Dr. Albert C. Barnes of Philadelphia (1872-1951). Trained as a doctor, Barnes pursued chemistry as it applied to the practice of medicine. In fact, Barnes’ wealth came from a drug he developed called Argyrol, an antiseptic which is used in the treatment of ophthalmic infections and to prevent newborn infant blindness. It was a treatment that Lynn prescribed often in his opthamological practice. (That’s the “small world” part of the story.)
Barnes formed A.C. Barnes Company and registered the trademark for Argyrol, selling the company just days before the stock market crash in 1929. He spent his wealth purchasing fine art throughout his lifetime.
Philadelphia’s art intelligentia declared Barnes’ collection to be too avant-garde when he shared it with the public in 1923. As a result, Barnes maintained a long-lasting and well-publicized antagonism toward those he considered part of the art establishment. There are over 4,000 objects in the Barnes collection. The works are not hung traditionally, a fact that generates ongoing criticism.