Art Gets a Start in America:  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Founded when Thomas Jefferson was president and the Revolutionary War was still a part of living memory, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia is America’s first art museum and school, and is home to more than two centuries of American art. Its mission is the same as when it first opened its doors in 1805: to train and exhibit work by contemporary American artists. Inside, students paint before the great works of Charles Willson Peale, Gilbert Stuart, Winslow Homer and Mary Cassat. From 19th century paintings after the Grand Manner Tradition of Europe to contemporary works by today’s artists, this collection may represent the interesting dynamic that exists between the lure of Europe and the increasing instinct of American artists to create an art that is uniquely American.

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The Artist's Training GroundView larger

The Artist's Training Ground

The concept behind the Pennsylvania museum was that it was to be a resource for art students. The intent was to train Americans, in the same way that artists in Europe were trained.


The Artist in His MuseumView larger

The Artist in His Museum

Charles Wilson Peale, 1822

Charles Wilson Peale was a Philadelphian and a founder of The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. This self-portrait, painted in 1822, shows Peale standing proudly in his own museum.


The Painter's TriumphView larger

The Painter's Triumph

William Sidney Mount, 1838

"The Painter’s Triumph" is a painting that was designed to be the antithesis of the grand traditions of European painting. Here we see the artist showing his work to an unsophisticated viewer. We only see the back of the canvas, but the suggestion is it’s clearly not a painting of a grand subject from the Bible. The artist, William Sydney Mount, believed that art should be for the masses.


The Fox HuntView larger

The Fox Hunt

Winslow Homer,1893

One of the most important works in the Academy’s collection is Winslow Homer’s awe-inspiring 1893 piece, “Fox Hunt.” “Fox Hunt” was Homer’s largest painting to date and the first painting of his to enter a public collection when it was purchased by the Academy in 1894, just one year after it was painted.


Art and ArtistsView larger

Art and Artists

The smell of linseed oil and turpentine remind visitors that art is being made at the Academy. Teachers and students work in the upstairs galleries executing projects in front of the works of art that are on view.


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