In 1924, Henry Barber received a baronetcy for 'Political Services to Birmingham'. He died three years later. Lady Barber decided to make a permanent contribution to the city in his memory. On 13 December 1932, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts was founded, and was bequeathed to the University 'for the study and encouragement of art and music'. Lady Barber died four months later leaving all of her assets to the trustees of the Institute. This money was used to acquire works of art for a collection and fund the construction of a new building. In order to ensure that only artworks of the highest quality were bought for the Barber Institute, its founding trust deed stipulated that all purchases should be 'of that standard of quality as required by the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection'.
The founding director (from 1935 to 1952) was Thomas Bodkin, who acquired the nucleus of the collection described by The Observer as "the last great art collection of the twentieth century". Bodkin's successor was Professor Ellis Waterhouse who served from 1952 to 1970. The current director of the Barber is Nicola Kalinsky, previously deputy director and chief curator of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. She joined the Barber in the midst of its 80th anniversary programme as it planned for a major redevelopment of its building.
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