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The carriage house at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was razed to make way for new museum buildings. (David L. Ryan/Boston Globe)

The Barnes Foundation, a charmingly intimate museum in Merion, just outside Philadelphia, has been trying to move itself for years to a more prominent location. It has not made a lot of friends in the process.

Founder Albert C. Barnes was a major crank and patent- medicine magnate who died in 1951 leaving strict orders on how he expected his art to be hung in the rooms of his mansion. Those orders had to be followed by Manhattan architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, who must also duplicate the rooms in which the art was hung.

The Barnes teetered at the edge of a financial abyss for years, but it has doggedly raised cash and run a long legal gantlet in pursuit of the risky move. The foundation insists it is essential to bring in more visitors and expand giving.

The architects’ proposed design retains the dignity of the Barnes current home in the new location on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway. To keep the 93,000-square-foot structure from dwarfing the 12,000 square feet of replicated exhibition space, Williams and Tsien use a high light court to separate a low limestone rectangle housing the collection from the rest of the structure…

Meanwhile, in Boston, the beloved Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum sees misplaced salvation in a Renzo Piano addition. Gardner, a flamboyant art patron of the Gilded Age, placed 2,500 items — starring Titian, Raphael and Rembrandt — in a gawkily proportioned faux Venetian palace, where her wayward taste and bizarre display sensibility at once charm and appall.

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James Russell
Bloomberg

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