In a biography of Dr. Barnes written in 1987 by Howard Greenfeld entitled "The Devil and Dr. Barnes", an account is given of one specific time that Abe came to the aid of his old mentor joining the collector in one of his battles with the administration of the Philadelphia Museum.
A few years after the war in 1948, Dr. Barnes became enraged when the Museum mounted an exhibit of Matisse's painting and used an illustration of one of the painter's works that was in the Barnes Foundation's collection for publicity. Characteristically looking for a fight, he protested the selection of one of Penn's art professors named David Robb as one of the people scheduled to give a lecture on Matisse's work. The Museum decided to substitute the Director, Fiske Kimball for Robb who was an old adversary of Dr. Barnes and on April 30, Abe found himself in a crossfire of the two combatants.
"...Initially Penn's officials pleaded academic freedom...in the end they gave in to Barnes's insistent demands. Robb's lecture was canceled, and he was replaced by Fiske Kimball, who agreed to step in at the last moment...not, admittedly, a Matisse expert...he could in no way have known that Barnes, having planned the event well in advance, was fully prepared... "
"The doctor had mustered all of his forces. Friends and students of the Foundation packed the lecture hall. Led by Barnes and by Abraham Chanin, a former student and at the time a member of the staff of New York's Museum of Modern Art...(t)hey succeeded brilliantly...Barnes apparently was proud of his role in it, for the following day he distributed mimeographed excerpts of notes taken during Kimball's lecture."
"CHANIN (to Kimball): What makes a still-life a masterpiece?"
"KIMBALL: The life with which the artist has impressed it. "
"CHANIN: Can you give me an idea of what you mean by that? "
"KIMBALL: Do you know the secret of organic life? "
"CHANIN: There are no specifics that make it a Matisse? "
"KIMBALL: I think there are, but they are not the ones that give it life. "
"CHANIN: What does "life" mean? "
"SOMEONE: That's a mystery. "
"KIMBALL: Yes, that's a mystery. . "
"CHANIN :You have not made a single statement that would enable a person of average intelligence to learn what makes a painting a work of art, or what makes a painting by Matisse different from the work of any other modem painter. "
"KIMBALL: (to Chanin): Young man, art can't be explained like that. The only specific thing about Matisse is his being Matisse.... "
"BARNES: Wouldn't you point out what that "life" in Matisse consists of? "
"KIMBALL: Yes! Wouldn't you tell us, Doctor Barnes? "
"BARNES: It is you who are here to talk about Matisse; I came here to learn. "
"KIMBALL (to Chanin): We are very happy to welcome guest artists . . . and . . . uh . . . Doctor Barnes, you know a lot about Matisse, you began in 1921. "
"BARNES: Nineteen twelve is correct. "
"KIMBALL: You own sixty-odd Matisses. "
"BARNES:Sixty-five is correct. "
"KIMBALL: I wish you would interpret them to me. "
"BARNES: I would if you would come out there and enter as a student in the first-year class, learn what the first principles of psychology and education are, and learn something about paintings by being shown, not by banalities and platitudes. I have been swamped by questions here this afternoon. "
"KIMBALL: Won't you answer them? "
"BARNES: Why should I answer them? They refer to your talk, which seems to have confused everybody. For instance, here is one question: "Do you mean that what you pointed out is what makes Matisse a great artist?" "
"KIMBALL: Yes, the life! "
"BARNES: A very vague thing. As I understand it, these people came to learn something about Matisse and what makes the difference between Matisse and any other painter. "
"WOMAN: Couldn't what you said about Matisse be said of any other artist? "
"KIMBALL: Yes, it could. "
"VOICES IN THE AUDIENCE: What! My God! "
"BARNES: There is no difference then? That's what we want to know. That fellow (pointing to Chanin) asked you what you mean; you didn't tell him. "
"KIMBALL: I have no pretense, as I said, of being a master of interpretation. (To Chanin) Maybe you want to talk to the audience; why don't you enlighten these people . . . ? "
"CHANIN: Well, it's not my job, but I will, if they want me to. If you select a painting, I'll show you what I mean. "
"SOMEONE: How about The Blue Window? "
"KIMBALL: Yes - "
"VOICES IN AUDIENCE: Oh! Yes. "
"CHANIN: All right, if you want me to prove a painting can be analyzed so that it makes sense, I'll talk on The Blue Window.... "
"(Turning to the picture and facing the audience, Chanin began his talk.) "
"KIMBALL (interrupting Chanin's analysis): My dear boy, I am sure we have all enjoyed--"
"SOMEONE: Hey! Let him go on! He hasn't finished. "
"BARNES: You can't interrupt him. He [Chanin] has the floor. That's not very polite, and you know, Mr. Kimball, that I am never impolite. "
"KIMBALL: I am director of the museum-- "
"BARNES: That doesn't mean you own the museum. It's tax-supported and you are expected to serve the tax-paying public. Besides, you asked the man to speak and he has the right to finish what he wants to say. "
"AUDIENCE: Yes! Yes! "
"KIMBALL: Unfortunately, I have to leave myself and I wanted to thank our young friend here [Chanin].... "