Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Location SW corner of Broad & Cherry Sts.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Coordinates Coordinates: 39°57′18″N 75°9′50″W / 39.95500°N 75.16389°W / 39.95500; -75.16389
Built 1871–1876[1]
Architect Frank Furness; George Hewitt
Architectural style Second Empire, Renaissance, Gothic
NRHP Reference # 71000731[2]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP May 27, 1971
Designated PHMC November 17, 2004[3]

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is a museum and art school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1805 and is the first and oldest art museum and art school in the United States. The academy's museum is internationally known for its collections of 19th- and 20th-century American paintings, sculptures, and works on paper. Its archives house important materials for the study of American art history, museums, and art training.


The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) was founded in 1805 by painter and scientist Charles Willson Peale, sculptor William Rush, and other artists and business leaders. The growth of the Academy of Fine Arts was slow. It held its exhibitions for many years in a modern building of the Ionic order designed by John Dorsey which was built in 1806, and stood on the site of the American Theater at Chestnut and 10th Streets. It opened as a museum in 1807 and held its first exhibition in 1811, where more than 500 paintings and statues were on display. The first school classes held in the building were with the Society of Artists in 1810. The Academy was reconstructed after the fire of 1845, and 23 years later steps were taken to construct a building more worthy of its treasures, the current Furness-Hewitt building, which was constructed from 1871, and opened as part of the 1876 Philadelphia Exposition.[4]

In 1876, former Academy student Thomas Eakins returned to teach as a volunteer. Fairman Rogers, chairman of the Committee on Instruction from 1878 to 1883, made him a faculty member in 1878, and promoted him to director in 1882. Eakins revamped the certificate curriculum to what it remains today. Students in the certificate program learn fundamentals of drawing, painting, sculpture, and printmaking (relief, intaglio, and lithography) for two years, after which they enjoy two years of independent study, guided by frequent critiques from faculty, students, and visiting artists.

From 1811 to 1969, the Academy also organized important annual art exhibitions from which significant acquisitions were made. Harrison S. Morris, Managing Director from 1892 to 1905, collected contemporary American art for the institution. Among the many masterpieces acquired during his tenure were works by Cecilia Beaux, William Merritt Chase, Frank Duveneck, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, and Edmund Tarbell. Work by The Eight, which included former Academy students Robert Henri and John Sloan, is well represented in the collection, and provides a transition between 19th- and 20th- century art movements.

From 1890 to 1906, Edward Hornor Coates served as the tenth president of the Academy. In 1915, Coates was awarded the Academy's gold medal.[5] Painter John McLure Hamilton, who began his art education at the Academy under Thomas Eakins, describes the contributions Coates made during his tenure:

The reign of Mr. Coates at the Academy marked the period of its greatest prosperity. Rich endowments were made to the schools, a gallery of national portraiture was formed, and some of the best examples of Gilbert Stuart's work acquired. The annual exhibitions attained a brilliancy and éclat hitherto unknown... Mr. Coates wisely established the schools upon a conservative basis, building almost unconsciously the dykes high against the oncoming flow of insane novelties in art patterns... In this last struggle against modernism the President was ably supported by Eakins, Anschutz, Grafly, [Henry Joseph] Thouron, Vonnoh, and Chase... His unfailing courtesy, his disinterested thoughtfulness, his tactfulness, and his modesty endeared him to scholars and masters alike. No sacrifice of time or of means was too great, if he thought he could accomplish the end he always had in view—the honour and the glory of the Academy. It was under Mr. Coates' enlightened direction that was fulfilled the expressed wish of Benjamin West, the first honorary Academician, that "Philadelphia may be as much celebrated for her galleries of paintings by the native genius of the country, as she is distinguished by the virtues of her people ; and that she may be looked up to as the Athens of the Western World in all that can give polish to the human mind."[6]

During World War I, Academy students were actively involved in war work. "About sixty percent of the young men enlisted or entered Government service, and probably all of the young women and all the rest of the young men were directly or indirectly engaged in war work."[7] A war service club was formed by students and a monthly publication, The Academy Fling, was sent to service members. George Harding, a former PAFA student, was commissioned Captain during the war and created official combat sketches for the American Expeditionary Forces.

Women at the Academy

The 1844 Board of Directors' declaration that women artists "would have exclusive use of the statue gallery for professional purposes" and study time in the museum on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings signified a significant advance towards formal training in art for women.[8] Prior to the founding of the Academy, there were limited opportunities for women to receive professional training in the United States. Realizing the rise in interest of young women, this period between the mid-19th and early 20th century shows a remarkable growth of formally trained women artists.

By 1860 female students were allowed to take anatomy and antique courses, drawing from antique casts.[9] In addition, women enjoyed their newly acquired library and gallery access. Life classes, the study of the nude body, were available to women in the spring of 1868 with female models and with male models six years later. This came after much debate on the appropriateness of women viewing the nude male form.

It took 24 years before women could take full advantage of all aspects of training at the prestigious institution.[10] After 1868 women took more active leadership roles and achieved influential positions. For example, Catherine Drinker, at the age of 27, was the first woman to teach at the academy in 1878.[11] One of her pupils, her younger cousin Cecilia Beaux, would leave a lasting legacy at the academy as the first female faculty member to instruct painting and drawing beginning in 1895.[12] By the 1880s women had become competitors against men for top accolades and recognitions. Not until much later, however, did the academy gain its first woman on the Board of Directors in 1950.

Even as women artists were making progress in the United States, it remained more difficult in Europe. Women that chose to travel overseas typically studied the works of master artists in the galleries not in classes. In this regard, the U.S. was more progressive than Europe at the time.

In 2010, The Academy acquired the Linda Lee Alter Collection of Art by Women, nearly 500 works by female artists from collector Linda Lee Alter. Artists in the collection include international artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Judy Chicago, Louise Nevelson, Kiki Smith and Kara Walker, as well renowned Philadelphia artists including Elizabeth Osborne. In 2012, The Academy showed the collection in the exhibition The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World. [13]

Further information: Mary Smith Prize
An exhibition space within the Academy

The Academy today

The Museum

Since its founding, the Academy has collected works by leading American artists, as well as works by distinguished alumni and faculty of its school. Today, the Academy maintains its collecting tradition with the inclusion of works by modern and contemporary American artists. Acquisitions and exhibition programs are balanced between historical and contemporary art, and the museum continues to show works by contemporary regional artists and features annual displays of work by Academy students. The collection is installed in a chronological and thematic format, exploring the history of American art from the 1760s to the present.

The School

The Academy is well known for its longstanding 4-year Certificate Program. Since 1929, qualified students may apply for and receive a coordinated Bachelor of Fine Arts program at the University of Pennsylvania. Another BFA degree program is offered exclusively in-house (a recent addition) its Master of Fine Arts program, a Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Graduate Studies, and extensive continuing education offerings, as well as programs for children and families.

Starting in Summer 2015, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) will offer a low-residency Master of Fine Arts program.

PAFA is also offering a new major in the Certificate and the Bachelor of Fine Arts Program. Starting in Fall 2015, student will be able to study fine arts illustration, which complements the present offerings in painting, drawing, printmaking, and sculpture.

In 2013, PAFA received Middle States Commission for Higher Education (MSCHED) accreditation.

In January 2009, PAFA signed a historic transfer agreement with Camden County College, New Jersey.[14] The "Camden Connection" allows for the transfer of liberal arts and studio classes as well as providing, on a competitive basis, for partial merit scholarships specifically for Camden County College students. Other transfer agreements are now in place with the following community college art departments: Community College of Philadelphia, Montgomery County Community College, Atlantic Cape Community College, and Northampton Community College.

In January 2007, the Academy, in association with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased Thomas Eakins's work The Gross Clinic from the Jefferson Medical School. This seminal American work will be displayed at both institutions on a rotating basis.

In 2005, the Academy received the National Medal of Arts recognizing it as a leader in fine arts education.[1]

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (c. 1895)
A detail of the north (Cherry Street) face of the building
The Cherry Street walkway between the Furness-Hewitt building (left) and the Hamilton Building (right), with sculpture installations


The Furness-Hewitt building

The current museum building began construction in 1871 and opened in 1876 in connection with the Philadelphia Centennial. Designed by the American architects Frank Furness and George Hewitt, and has been called "[O]ne of the most magnificent Victorian buildings in the country."[4] The building's facade draws on a number of different historical styles, including Second Empire, Renaissance Revival and Gothic Revival, amalgamated in an "aggressively personal manner".[4] The building's exterior coloration combines "rusticated brownstone, dressed sandstone, polished pink granite, red pressed brick, and purplish terra-cotta."[4]

The inside of the building is equally varied, combining "gilt floral patterns incised on a field of Venetian red; ... [a] cerulean blue ceiling sprinkled with silver stars", and plum, ochre, sand and olive green gallery walls. The building's structure combines brick, stone and iron; because of fire-proofing concerns, some of the iron i-beam were left uncovered.[4]

1876 opening notes:
The newly-built Academy of Fine Arts will bear comparison with any institution of its kind in America. It has a front of one hundred feet on Broad Street and a depth of two hundred and fifty-eight feet on Cherry Street. Its situation, with a street on each of its three sides, and an open space along a considerable portion of the fourth, is very advantageous as regards lighting, and freedom from risk by fire.

It is built of brick, the principal entrance, which is two stories high, being augmented with encaustic tiles, terra-cotta statuary, and light stone dressings. The walls are laid in patterns of red and white brick. Over the main entrance on Broad Street there is a large Gothic window with stone tracery. The Cherry Street front is relieved by a colonnade supporting arched windows, back of which is the transept and pointed gable.

Beyond the entrance vestibule is the main staircase, which starts from a wide hall and leads to the galleries on the second floor. Along the Cherry Street side of the Academy are five galleries arranged for casts from the antique; and, further on, are rooms for drapery painting, and the life class. These have a clear north light which can never be obstructed.

On the south side, there is a large lecture room, with retiring rooms, and back of these are the modeling rooms and rooms devoted to the use of students and professors.

On the second floor is the main hall, which extends across the building, and is intended for the exhibition of large works of art. This story is divided into galleries, which are lighted from the top. Through the center runs a hall which is set apart for the exhibition of statuary, busts, small statues, bas-reliefs, etc. On each side of this hall are picture galleries, which are so arranged in size and form as to admit of classification of pictures, and which can be divided into suits where separate exhibitions may be held at the same time.

The art collections of the gallery are considered the most valuable in America. They comprise the masterpieces of Stuart, Sully, Allston, West, and others of our early artists, the Gilpin gallery, fine marbles, and facsimiles of famous statues, as well as a magnificent gallery from the antique.[15]

The Academy building is Furness's best known work, and served to establish him as one of the country's top architects.[16] Despite being initially admired and praised by critics, by the turn of the century the reputation of the building had diminished, and was not considered attractive. Eventually, steps were taken to obscure its ornamentation. It was only in the post-World War II era that the building gained new found appreciation. The building is now considered a masterpiece, one of the greatest buildings in Philadelphia and arguably Furness's greatest work. In accord with this praise, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975.[17] The building underwent a full restoration of both its interiors and exteriors in 1976 to coincide with its centennial. The restoration work was conducted through Day and Zimmerman Associates, and headed by Human Myers.[18]

The Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building

In 2002, Dorrance H. Hamilton made a large donation to the Academy that allowed it to purchase the former federal building and automobile factory at 128 N. Broad Street, immediately adjacent to the original building. It was renamed in memory of her husband, The Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building, renovated, and the School of Fine Arts of the Academy completed its move there in September 2006. The building also contains a special exhibition space called the Fisher Brooks Gallery, named after James R. Fisher, an artist who attended PAFA in the late 1880s, and Leonie Brooks, who are the grandfather and mother, respectively, of Marguerite Lenfest, a philanthropist and PAFA board member.

The Hamilton building also houses Portfolio, the museum's gift shop.

Notable people

Notable Academy students, faculty and leaders include:

Portrait of Edward Hornor Coates, 10th President P.A.F.A. (1912) by John McLure Hamilton.


Beck Gold Medal (defunct)

see main page Beck Gold Medal

The Carol H. Beck Gold Medal was awarded to the best portrait by an American artist exhibited at PAFA's annual exhibition. It was awarded from 1909 to 1968.

Mary Smith Prize (defunct)

see main page Mary Smith Prize

The Mary Smith Prize was awarded to "the Painter of the best painting (not excluding portraits) exhibiting at the Academy, painted by a resident woman Artist."[22] It was awarded from 1879 to 1968.

Temple Gold Medal (defunct)

see main page Temple Gold Medal

The Joseph E. Temple Fund Gold Medal was awarded to the best oil painting by an American artist exhibited at PAFA's annual exhibition. It was awarded from 1883 to 1968.

Widener Gold Medal

see main page Widener Gold Medal

The Academy established the George D. Widener Gold Medal for sculpture in 1912. Widener was a businessman and director of the Academy who died on the RMS Titanic. The award recognizes the "most meritorious work of Sculpture modeled by an American citizen and shown in the Annual Exhibition".[23]


In 2013, the Academy put up for sale East Wind Over Weehawken (1934), one of two Edward Hopper paintings in its collection, to start an endowment fund to buy contemporary art. About 25 percent of the endowment will be dedicated to filling gaps in the collection of historic art, but approximately three quarters of new investments are planned to be in contemporary art of undetermined value with hopes for dramatic increases in the future.[24] The painting was sold at auction for $40,485,000.[25] This added significantly to the museum's then-current endowment of approximately $23.5 million,[26] but raised new questions about the museum's mission and whether such deaccessionings are in the public interest.

See also

A U.S. Postage Stamp commemorating the 150th anniversary of the academy.



  1. 1 2 "Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: About". Artinfo. 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-24.
  2. National Park Service (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  3. "PHMC Historical Markers". Historical Marker Database. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. Retrieved December 10, 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Gallery, John Andrew, ed. (2004), Philadelphia Architecture: A Guide to the City (2nd ed.), Philadelphia: Foundation for Architecture, ISBN 0962290815, p. 65
  5. American Art News (January 7, 1922)
  6. Hamilton, John McLure. Men I Have Painted. London: T. Fisher Unwin Ltd., 1921; p. 176-180
  7. Philadelphia in the World War: 1914-1919 New York: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford Co. 1922. pg.517
  8. The Pennsylvania Academy and its women, pg. 12
  9. May, Stephen, "An Enduring Legacy: The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1805–2005" in Hain, Mark et al. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1805–2005: 200 years of excellence Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 2005, pg.16
  10. The Pennsylvania Academy and its women, pg. 17
  11. The Pennsylvania Academy and its women, pg.19
  12. Yount, Sylvia et al. Cecilia Beaux: American Figure Painter, Atlanta: High Museum of Art; Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007, pg. 36
  13. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; Cozzolino, Robert (2012-01-01). The female gaze: women artists making their world. ISBN 9781555953898.
  14. PAFA To Offer Scholarships to Fine Arts Students at Camden County College, PAFA Press Room, 2/20/2009
  15. Strahan, Edward (ed.) (1875). A Century After, picturesque glimpses of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Allen, Lane & Scott and J. W. Lauderbach.
  16. Teitelman, Edward & Longstreth, Richard W. (1981), Architecture in Philadelphia: A Guide, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, ISBN 0262700212, p.80
  17. Webster, Richard J. (1976). Philadelphia Preserved. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press. pp. 136–137.
  18. Moss, Rodger (2008). Historic Landmarks of Philadelphia. Philadelphia, PA: University of Philadelphia Press. pp. 186–191.
  19. John Rogers Cox: Bank clerk wins fame painting wheat fields. Life Magazine. July 12, 1948. Retrieved 2012-12-19.
  21. Kaltenbach, Chris (2014-11-15). "Remembrance: Michael Shamberg, from Baltimore to New Order and beyond". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2014-11-29.
  22. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1919). Catalogue of the Annual Exhibition. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. p. 6.
  23. Catalogue of the annual exhibition, Volume 112 By Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
  24. Graham Bowley (August 27, 2013), Pennsylvania Museum Selling a Hopper to Raise Endowment for Contemporary Art New York Times.
  25. "Christie's Auction Results, Sale 2750, Lot 17" Christie's (December 5, 2013)
  26. Spiegelman, Willard. "Academy at a Crossroads" Wall Street Journal (September 25, 2013)


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