Philadelphia’s fine arts tradition can be traced back to its earliest days. Before the American Revolution, the wealthy merchant class began to patronize the arts, especially the portrait painters. No proper high-society home was complete without a portrait of its owners hanging on the walls. Due to high demand, fine artists gravitated to the burgeoning city, including William Williams, his son William Joseph Williams, Benjamin West, Gilbert Stuart, and Charles Wilson Peale. Peale painted portraits of many notable historic figures including George Washington, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton; many are on display today in a gallery housed in the Second Bank of the United States.
In 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was founded by Charles Wilson Peale, sculptor William Rush, and others in the city’s arts and business communities. One of the nation’s leading art schools, it is known for its vast holdings of 19th- and 20th-century paintings and for playing a central role in the education of generations of American artists.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the world’s greatest art museums, was founded as the “Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art” as part of the 1876 Centennial Exposition. The landmark building dates from 1919, and its collection now includes almost a quarter of a million pieces. The Art Museum (as it’s locally known) is also the starting point for two local institutions of higher education. Philadelphia University, formerly the Philadelphia Textile School, started by offering textile manufacturers a polished education, while the University of the Arts traces the origins of its fine arts program to the Art Museum’s original school.
Public art is a major part of the Philadelphia landscape. The Fairmount Park Art Association ensures that the main municipal park is a showcase for sculpture and architecture, and the much-copied One Percent for Art program requires any construction project with city funding to include public art. Meanwhile, the Mural Arts Program has created nearly 2,800 murals across the city—more than in any other city in the world.
© Karrie Gavin from Moon Philadelphia, 1st Edition