Essential Architecture- the North East

Philadelphia Museum of Art


Horace Trumbauer, Zantzinger, Borie, and Medary


Philadelphia, PA;




Classical Revival




The Philadelphia Museum of Art, located at the west end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, was established in 1876 in conjunction with the Centennial Exposition of the same year and is now among the largest and most important art museums in the United States. Originally the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, its founding was inspired by the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) in London, which grew out of the Great Exhibition of 1851. It is known locally and colloquially as "The Art Museum." The museum opened its doors to the public on May 10, 1877. Construction of the current building began in 1919 on the former reservoir land of the decommisioned Fairmount Water Works. The first section was completed in the spring of 1928. The quasi-Greek Revival design was produced by Horace Trumbauer and the firm of Zantzinger, Borie and Medary.

For the better part of a century the McIlhenny family held an important relationship with the museum. Henry P. McIlhenny was involved for almost half a century, first as curator from 1939 - 1964, then as chairman of the board in 1976 til his death in 1986, when he left the bulk of his estate to the museum.


Each year the Museum puts on 15 to 20 special exhibitions and is visited by 800,000 people. Some of the larger and most famous special exhibitions, which have attracted hundreds of thousands of people from every state and around the world, include shows featuring Paul Cézanne (in 1996, attracting 548,000) and Salvador Dalí (in 2005, attracting 370,000).

Widely regarded as a world-class art institution, the Philadelphia Museum of Art includes not only its iconic Main Building, but also the Rodin Museum (also on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway) and several other historic sites. The recently acquired Perelman Building (across the street from the Main Building) is projected to open in 2007 and will house for public display a few of the Museum's more popular collections.

In the 18th century, Philadelphia was one of the most important cities both before and after the American Revolution and was a center of style and culture.[1] The museum is particularly known for its important collections of Pennsylvania German art, 18th century and 19th century furniture and silver by early Philadelphia and Pennsylvania craftsmen, and works by prominent Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins. The museum houses the most important Eakins collection in the world.

Relationship to Philadelphia

Statue of Rocky Balboa, with the museum in the background. Taken September 26, 2006.Besides its architecture and collections, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is well known for the role it played in a famous scene in the film Rocky, and also in four of its sequels, II, III, V and Rocky Balboa. Visitors to the museum can often be seen mimicking Rocky's famous run up the front steps, now known locally as the Rocky Steps.

A bronze statue of Rocky was briefly placed at the top of the steps for the filming of Rocky III. The statue was moved afterwards to the Wachovia Spectrum due to a furious debate over the meaning of "art". The statue was returned for the filming of Rocky V, and also appears at the top of the steps in the movies Philadelphia and Mannequin, but has since been removed. The statue was replaced with a simple set of footprints reading "Rocky." The statue was returned to the foot of the steps on September 8, 2006.[2]

Because of its location at the end of the Ben Franklin Parkway, the museum is the backdrop for many concerts and parades. On July 2, 2005, the steps of the museum played host to the Philadelphia venue of Live 8, where artists such as Dave Matthews Band, Linkin Park and Maroon 5 performed. The museum closed for Live 8, but reopened at regular hours the following day.

Gallery Expansion
Due to overwhelming popularity and overflowing collections, it was announced in October 2006 that Frank Gehry will be designing an expansion to the museum. The 80,000 square foot gallery will be built entirely underground beneath the Rocky Steps and will not alter any of the museum's existing Greek revival facade. Though the date for construction to begin has not been announced, the construction is projected to last a decade and cost $500 million. It will increase the museum's available display space by sixty percent and house mostly contemporary sculpture, Asian art, and special exhibitions[3].