There are many incredible museums in Philadelphia, but one of the most impressive is often overlooked: the museum at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
Located along Broad Street in Center City Philadelphia, this museum has a rich history. Founded in 1805 by painter Charles Willson Peale and sculptor William Rush, it was both the first art museum and the first art school in the United States.
Today, the academy still serves as a school and museum, with a museum spanning two different buildings. The museum is best known for its impressive collection of 19th and 20th-century American paintings and sculptures.
The older of the two buildings that comprise the museum, known as the Historic Landmark Building, was completed in 1876 and is an incredible example of Victorian Gothic architecture. This building is a beautiful work of art on its own, so definitely take a few minutes to admire its great architecture while exploring the inside and the outside of the museum.
Across a narrow alley, known as Lenfest Alley, that features some very large pieces of inventive art including a giant paintbrush and an artistic plane crash, you’ll find the academy’s second museum building.
Entrance to the historic part of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts’ museum is through the first floor.
After paying your admission, you walk up an incredibly beautiful staircase to the second floor of the museum, where all of the exhibits are kept.
The exhibit area in the museum is among the most beautiful I’ve come across in Pennsylvania. While other art museums in Philadelphia, such as the Barnes Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art have nice exhibition areas, they can’t compare to the design and bright feeling of the museum at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
The gallery space inside the Historic Landmark Building consists of a variety of rooms, each of which features a collection of amazing works of art spanning many different styles. Within many of the rooms, there are sculptures located in the center of the room and paintings filling the walls.
The gallery is set up to showcase both the different eras and the different themes of American art dating back to the country’s earliest days.
Some of the most incredible paintings in the museum are those done by Charles Willson Peale. Peale is best known for his paintings of influential Americans from the last 18th and early 19th centuries. The museum’s collection includes nearly 20 of his paintings, including two of George Washington and two of Benjamin Franklin.
There are also great paintings of America’s Founding Fathers by other renowned artists such as Gilbert Stuart.
In addition to paintings of famous Americans, the museum’s collection actually extends all the way up to the present day and includes works by famous American artists like Andy Warhol, Charles Demuth, and Mary Cassatt.
Once you’ve enjoyed the incredible collection of art inside the Landmark Building, make sure to head across the alley to visit the second part of the museum in the Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building.
Inside this building, there is also a two-story gallery that features even more great works of art. In this space, you’ll find many works by students of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. However, given that some of the country’s best artists have attended this school, this is no ordinary school art fair. These are seriously good works of art.
While I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t get all of the art on display here, it was interesting to see the talents of current students and other modern artists who represent the future of American art.
In addition to their two main buildings, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts also manages the historic Dream Garden. This 49-foot mural made of Tiffany Glass is located within the Curtis Center, just around the corner from Independence Hall.
The Dream Garden is one of my favorite pieces of public art, and is well worth seeing, even if you don’t visit the rest of the museum.
Ultimately, if you love art, you absolutely should add the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Museum to your list of art museums in Pennsylvania to visit. While this spot gets overshadowed by other art museums in the city like the Barnes Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Rodin Museum, this spot has a collection that can hold its own with those institutions due to its incredible quality.
Note: My visit to the museum at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts was hosted by the museum. However, the opinions expressed in this article art my own.
Pennsyvlania Academy of Fine Arts
Hours: Thursday-Friday: 10a-4p
Cost: Adults: $10, Children: $5
Address: 118-128 N Broad St