Essential Architecture- the North East

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts


Furness & Hewitt


Philadelphia, PA.




Victorian High Gothic


Brick with stone trim


Public Hall
  101a: view from northeast, tinted photo, from an old postcard (J. Howe).
  photo, front, c. 1900-06, Detroit Publishing Co., Library of Congress.
  flank, photo G. Thomas.
  stairhall, old photo, [GTsrc PAFA?]
  preliminary heating plan, gallery level [GTsrc PAFA?] ~
  stairhall, photo G. Thomas. and Detail: front window, Photo 1977, M. Clausen. 
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was founded in 1805 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by painter and scientist Charles Willson Peale, sculptor William Rush, and other artists and business leaders. It is the oldest art museum and school in the nation. 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 current museum building opened in 1876. Designed by the American architects Frank Furness and George W. Hewitt, it has been designated a National Historic Landmark. As such, it is recognized as an important part of America's and Philadelphia's architectural heritage. It was carefully restored in 1976. The collection is installed in a chronological and thematic format, exploring the history of American art from the 1760s to the present.

Since its founding, the Academy has collected works by leading American artists, as well as works by distinguished alumni and faculty of its school. 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.

In 1876, former Academy student Thomas Eakins returned to teach there and re-vamped the certificate curriculum to what it remains today. Students in the certificate program learn fundamentals of drawing, painting, sculpture, and printmaking (lithography) for two years, after which they enjoy two years of independent study, guided by frequent, helpful critiques from faculty, students, and visiting artists alike.

Today, the Academy maintains its strong 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.

Qualified students who currently attend the Academy may apply for and receive a B.F.A. (Bachelor of Fine Arts) degree from the University of Pennsylvania. The two institutions' close ties and collaboration with each other enables qualified students to receive an Ivy League degree as well as a diploma from the Academy. The Academy is also known for its strong M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts) program, extensive continuing education offerings, as well as programs for children and families. In fact, the school received the National Medal of Arts during its 2005 bicentennial year.

Current News
In September 2006, the School of Fine Arts of the Academy completed its move into the newly renovated Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building, located at 128 N. Broad Street, adjacent to the Historic Landmark Building. This highly anticipated move is the next major element of the Academy's expansion and enhancement as it moves into its third century as America's oldest museum and school of art.

In January 2007, the Pennsylvania Academy, in association with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, purchased the Thomas Eakins's masterpiece, The Gross Clinic, from the Jefferson Medical School. This seminal American work will be displayed at both institutions, on a rotating basis, so it can be enjoyed by future generations of Philadelphians and visitors to the city alike.

Society of Architectural Historians

Special thanks to the Society of Architectural Historians
for some of the images on this page (copyright SAH).
  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Official Website