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Biographical Note | A Finding Aid to the George Grey Barnard papers, circa 1860-1969, bulk 1880-1938 | Digitized Collection

George Grey Barnard papers, circa 1860-1969, bulk 1880-1938

Biographical Note

George Grey Barnard (1863-1938) was an American sculptor, collector, and dealer, whose collection of medieval art formed the nucleus of the Cloisters, the branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to the art of the middle ages. Barnard was born to a Presbyterian minister and his wife in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania in 1863. While he was still a young boy, the family left Pennsylvania for the Midwest, eventually settling in Muscatine, Iowa. He married Edna Monroe in 1895 and had three children: Monroe, Vivia, and Barbara.
Barnard began studying sculpture in his late teens, first with Leonard Volk, then at the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied from 1882 until he left for Paris the following year. In Paris he received training from Pierre-Jules Cavelier at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1900 he earned a gold medal at the Salon of the Champs de Mars in Paris.
While in France, Bernard began scavenging the countryside for discarded medieval antiques. He was in debt most of his life, and sold these pieces to support his family and fund his work. He retained the best finds which eventually formed his two medieval collections. The first was the Cloisters, which he sold to John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1925. The second was the Abbaye, which he completed in 1937. This collection was sold by his estate to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1945.
Returning to America, he completed both public and private commissions. In 1902, he was commissioned to create sculptures for the new state capitol building in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In 1915, he was commissioned by Charles P. Taft to create an Abraham Lincoln statue for Cincinnati. The statue was erected in 1917 and portrayed Lincoln as gangly, frail, and emotional. A second casting was to be given to Westminster Abbey, but controversy over this representation eventually led to its transfer to Manchester.
George Grey Barnard was deeply affected by the devastation of World War I. He devoted the rest of his life to building a memorial to peace, called the Rainbow Arch. It would have been dedicated to the Mothers of America and paid for solely from his own funds and coins contributed by children. Although he spent all his resources on the arch, he only completed a plaster model before his death. George Grey Barnard died of a heart attack in 1938.