A Tribute to Robert E. Barron III, M.D.
by Robert D. Mowry
One of the pleasures of curatorial work is the access it affords to collectors; through that contact, one sees works of art that one might otherwise miss, just as one also learns about the collectors themselves. In rare instances, one discovers kindred spirits with whom one becomes fast friends.
So it was with Bob Barron, whom I first met on a June 1994 trip to New Orleans made specially to study his collection. At that time I was organizing Hare's Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers, my 1995-96 exhibition of Chinese brown- and black-glazed ceramics; I was eager to learn from Bob's collection and I was very much hoping to secure the loan of several pieces to that exhibition - of course, Bob eventually did lend several pieces.
Bob graciously received me at his home mid-afternoon that sunny Friday. With few preliminaries, we began immediately to examine his eighteen dark-glazed pieces. I was struck as much by Bob's deep knowledge of the material as by the collection's quality. After several hours of measuring, photographing, and note-taking, we finished our examination, at which point Bob invited me to dinner at Peristyle, an elegant French Quarter restaurant just a block away (his choice revealing the wide range of his connoisseurship).
Over dinner, Bob explained that his interest in Chinese ceramics arose in the early 1960s in Montreal, where he did an internship at Montreal General Hospital (having previously taken his degree at the Medical College of Charleston, in his native South Carolina). Curious since childhood about Chinese culture, he was captivated by the Chinese ceramics displayed in the windows of several nearby galleries; in fact, he made his first purchase from one of those dealers. His desire to learn about Chinese ceramics took him to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, where the then director Evan Turner happily indulged a student eager to examine the museum's small collection of Song pots. (Just as Bob would leave Montreal for New Orleans for a residency in neurology at Tulane, so too would Evan leave, eventually becoming director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and, later, of The Cleveland Museum of Art.)
At the close of dinner, Bob invited me to return to his home the following day to view the remainder of his collection, since, at that point, I had studied only the dark-glazed pieces. That next morning, I feasted on Yaozhou and Longquan celadons and on Jun, Cizhou, and Qingbai wares. The varied shapes, exquisite glazes, and superb quality readily attested to Bob's skills as a connoisseur, given that he had chosen each piece himself, weighing the advice of others but always keeping his own counsel. After completing our collection survey, Bob showed me his library of books on Chinese ceramics, which ranks among the most comprehensive in the West. At that moment, I understood that Bob was cast in the same mold as Johnny and Pauline Falk - that is, as a scholar-collector of the old school, to whom appreciation of beauty was but half the story, the other half being thorough knowledge and deep understanding of the pieces collected.
My visit ended with lunch at the Bistro at the Maison de Ville, another excellent French Quarter restaurant. There I learned that Bob acquired the majority of his pieces during his years in New Orleans, where he has lived since the mid-1960s, buying mainly from dealers and auction houses in New York and London, where he frequently traveled in the 1970s and 1980s.
Over the succeeding years, Bob and I have become close friends. Though the collection will be dispersed, our friendship will remain strong, nourished by memories, by debates about unusual pieces, by discussions of new archaeological finds, and, of course, by dinners at fine New Orleans restaurants.
Robert D. Mowry
Alan J. Dworsky Curator of Chinese Art
Harvard University Art Museums
Robert Barron Collection Exhibition and Publication Abbreviations
Huntsville Museum of Art, Art of China and Japan, 1977.
Huntsville, Alabama, Huntsville Museum of Art, Art of China and Japan, 15 September - 28 November 1977.
Exhibition catalogue: C.H. Wood.
The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Ceramics: The Chinese Legacy, 1984.
Memphis Tennessee, The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Ceramics: The Chinese Legacy, 1984.
Exhibition catalogue: J.H. Seto.
Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Hare's Fur, 1995.
Cambridge, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums; New York, China Institute; Madison, University of Wisconsin, Elvehjem Museum of Art: Hare's Fur, Tortoiseshell, and Partridge Feathers: Chinese Brown- and Black-Glazed Ceramics, 400 - 1400, December 1995 - January 1997.
Exhibition catalogue: R.D. Mowry.
New Orleans Museum of Art, Heaven and Earth Seen Within, 2000.
New Orleans, New Orleans Museum of Art; Lexington, Kentucky, Headley-Whitney Museum; Cincinatti, Ohio, The Taft Museum; Madison, University of Wisconsin, Elvehjem Museum: Heaven and Earth Seen Within: Song Ceramics from the Robert Barron Collection, March 2000 - May 2001.
Exhibition catalogue: L. Rotondo-McCord.
McCord, Song Ceramics, 2003.
L. Rotondo-McCord, 'Song and Jin Period Ceramics from the Collection of Dr. Robert Barron', Song Ceramics: Art History, Archaeology and Technology, Colloquies on Art & Archaeology in Asia No. 22, ed. S. Pierson, University of London, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London, 16 - 18 June 2003.