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Barker, Virgil (1890-1965) | University of Miami Finding Aids

Name: Barker, Virgil (1890-1965)

Historical Note:

Art critic and historian Virgil Barker was born in Abingdon, Virginia, in 1889.  He attended the Bordentown Military Institute, Harvard University and the Corcoran School of Art.  Barker began his professional career in 1919, serving as special assistant for the biennial exhibitions at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C.

At the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, he held the position of Curator of Paintings, and in 1920 he became director of the Kansas City Art Institute. 

Following this period of museum work, Barker began writing art history and criticism.  He joined the editorial board of The Arts, serving as associate editor and later as contributing editor. Working as an art critic in New York during the 1920s, Barker "came to know well many of the many important American painters who gravitated toward Alfred Stieglitz and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

and whose works dominated American painting between the two wars."

During 1925-26 Barker acted as foreign editor, travelling through Europe to cover exhibitions.  The Arts, which ceased publication in the late 1930s, remains a significant record of the art and art

criticism of this period. 

In 1931, Barker joined the University of Miami as a professor of art.  Praised as a great scholar and superb lecturer, he became a popular teacher.  Barker remained at the University for twenty-

eight years and promoted the visual arts in greater Miami and the University.  Barker wrote several reviews for the Miami Herald as well an article on the art of Vizcaya. In addition to teaching, he

served as a trustee at the University of Miami and played an instrumental role in the establishment of the Lowe Art Gallery, serving as its first director in 1950.  In 1951 the University recognized Barker's scholarship awarding him the honorary Doctor of

Letters degree.  Barker's reputation as a scholar and teacher also led to his appointment by the Carnegie Foundation to an American Studies committee in 1956.  Barker's responsibilities included selecting slides and writing text on colonial American painting for art history courses. 

Barker also contributed to the knowledge and interpretation of American art through his writings.  Barker served on the editorial boards of The Arts and The Art Bulletin, Art and Archaeology, The

Magazine of Art, and Art in America.  He contributed articles and reviews to Art in America, The Magazine of Art, The Yale Review, Saturday Review, and other magazines.  Barker's first book Pieter Bruegel, the Elder, published in 1926, was the first work on Bruegel written in English. In 1931 Barker published a monograph on Henry Lee McFee as well as A Critical Introduction to American


Barker travelled throughout the United States for ten years, surveying paintings in museums and private homes for his next book, American Painting: History and Interpretation, published in 1950.

The work, which presents American painting within its historical context and includes original interpretations, received favorable reviews.  Author, critic and museum director Lloyd Goodrich

described the work as "...the best history of American painting so far will be the definitive work in its field for a long time to come."

Barker's final work, From Realism to Reality in Recent American Painting (1959) contains a series of Barker's lectures. He also wrote numerous biographies of American painters for the Dictionary of American Biography, and Arts of the United States, as well as articles on Colonial American painting and John Singleton Copley for the Enyclopedia of World Art.  Barker was a member of

the College Art Association, and Association Internationale D'Art. The University of Miami Lowe Art Museum organized the Virgil Barker Memorial Collection of American Paintings following Barker's death in 1965, and numerous friends and colleagues donated to the collection.

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