A Tale of Two Trusts: The Barnes Foundation and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum


This paper examines the law of charitable trusts and donor intent through a comparison of two museums: the Barnes Foundation and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. This paper first analyzes the framework of the Barnes trust and the Gardner trust and explores the various limitations each donor placed upon their trust instruments, including the similar restriction that, after their deaths, their art could never be moved from where they placed it in their respective galleries. The paper then compares and contrasts the Gardner trust with the Barnes trust and discusses how, given their initial similarities, the Gardner Museum has received great success, whereby the Barnes Foundation is currently facing bankruptcy. The paper’s discussion particularly focuses on the recent controversial decision of a Pennsylvania court to allow the Barnes collection to be moved from its current location in the suburbs of Philadelphia, to a new building downtown in an effort to forestall bankruptcy. In conclusion, this paper argues that where Barnes’s excessive use of dead hand control ironically failed to ensure that his wishes for the Foundation were respected in perpetuity, the flexibility of the Gardner trust is what led to its ultimate success.


Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law | Estates and Trusts | Law and Society

Date of this Version

April 2006