Great French Paintings from the Barnes Collection Little, Brown $680 THIS book contains a selection of the most celebrated French paintings spanning a period of some 100 years bought by the American collector Dr Albert C. Barnes. It reproduces in colour over 100 pictures which until now have only been seen by the few allowed access to the private collection containing more than 2,000 works of art. The works have been largely hidden from view since 1923, when an exhibition of the paintings in his own gallery was given a poor reception. In anger, Barnes closed his collection to all but his guests and art students. No piece could be loaned or sold andcolour reproduction was banned. Here, each painting is well-illustrated and adequately described not for the benefit of the specialist but very much for the layman and student. The book's one drawback is its high price, though the quality of the presentation is excellent. Albert Barnes emerged from a humble background and even when affluence came to him he remained a largely unknown figure even in his native United States. Here was a collector who possessed neither the social connections of a Rockefeller nor the wealth ofa Getty, yet he amassed an outstanding collection. By the time of his death in 1951 he had 200 Renoirs and 75 Cezannes to his credit, an unrivalled collection for a private collector. His butcher father and Methodist mother never pretended to richness, but their son showed abilities in medicine that took him after graduation from Pennsylvania to work for a pharmaceutical company. There, with a colleague, he concocted a powerful ocular anti-inflammatory antiseptic. By 1908 he had his own successful business that allowed him to concentrate the rest of his life on his real passion, collecting contemporary and mainly French art. The archetypal compulsive collector Barnes, on his first visit to Paris in 1912, succeeded in buying six Cezannes and four Renoirs. One of his early Cezannes, Bathers, is typical of his early love of the impressionists. The painting depicts nude women, firmly posed and with a complete lack of any ''charged sexuality''; there is a characteristic and intriguing bluntness of image. Of Barnes' 75 Cezannes it is a shame that only 18 are illustrated here. The compiler has preferred instead to illustrate the diversity of Cezanne's work. Particularly striking is the oil Leda and the Swan, painted around 1880, which portrays a voluptuousfemale nude receiving the attention of Zeus appearing in the form of a swan. Another splendid work is Cezanne's painting of an isolated farmhouse in Provence, which faithfully records all the eccentric angles and shapes that other artists usually discard. The Renoirs are the masterpieces of the collection, yet again it is a shame that space could not have been found to illustrate more. Only a fraction of the 200 Renoirs are included. A full-length portrait of Jeanne Durand-Ruel is an excellent example of the influence that Japanese art was having in Europe at the time. Mother and Child, painted in 1881, evokes the classic theme of the Virgin Mary in a refreshing context. The Virgin comforts her child against a background made up of wallpaper dotted with sprigs of flowers symbolising youth and the simple beauties of the natural world. Included in the collection are a sprinkling of other artists from the post-impressionist and modern schools. Scout Attacked by a Tiger by Henri Rousseau is one of the artist's best while Picasso's large Acrobat and Young Harlequin is both a splendid example of a favourite subject of the artist's and exceptional for its size. Also represented are works by Monet, van Gogh, Seurat Toulouse-Lautrec and Matisse. Published for an exhibition of the Barnes collection at the National Gallery in Washington this year (a selection of works also opened at the Musee D'Orsay in Paris last month), this book is a testament to the superb taste of a discerning collector whoserange of interest also includes African, African-American, Middle Eastern and East Asian art and furniture. But it is for his Renoirs and Cezannes that Barnes is, and will continue to be, best remembered.