A jewel nestled in the heart of Center City, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) boasts a vast collection of American art and treasures by local and national luminaries such as Charles Willson Peale (founder of the Academy), Thomas Eakins (who taught here), and Violet Oakley.
One of Gilbert Stuart’s portraits of George Washington is a special source of pride for locals, as are other well-known paintings by artists such as Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Edward Hopper and Cecilia Beaux – to name just a few.
Wildly colorful and extravagantly detailed, the 1876 national Historic Landmark Building designed by Frank Furness and George W. Hewitt provides an extraordinary setting for PAFA’s historic art collection.
The Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building, which opened in 2005, is a soaring loft space which houses PAFA’s extraordinary temporary exhibitions and array of contemporary art.
Lenfest Plaza at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is one of Philadelphia’s newest open-air gathering spaces.
Located on a half-block stretch of Cherry Street, in front of PAFA’s Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building, Lenfest Plaza features space for rotating student exhibitions and a striking public art installation by famed artist Claes Oldenburg.
Thomas Eakins’ Portrait of Dr. Samuel M. Gross (The Gross Clinic)
With only five years of professional art experience under his belt, Thomas Eakins painted his grand masterpiece, the Portrait of Dr. Samuel M. Gross (The Gross Clinic).
The dramatic and detailed depiction of Dr. Gross performing a surgical procedure, considered to be one of the greatest American paintings, was bought from Jefferson Medical College by PAFA and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007.
The Historic Landmark Building
PAFA’s Historic Landmark Building, designed by Philadelphia-born architect Frank Furness and George Hewitt, is considered one of the finest surviving examples of Gothic architecture in the county.
The ornamented exterior — executed in juxtapositions of sandstone, pink granite, red brick and purplish terracotta — is somber by comparison with the interior where gold floral patterns are set on walls of Venetian red beneath a blue ceiling sprinkled with silver stars.
After entering the main building, you are greeted by the richly detailed Grand Stairhall leading to gallery spaces with vaulted ceilings. The lavish décor presents a spectacular backdrop for the museum’s 19th Century artwork and special collections.
Samuel M. V. Hamilton Building
Renovations on the Samuel M. V. Hamilton building began in 2002 thanks to an extremely generous donation from the widow of Samuel Hamilton (1924-1997).
Today, the building serves as a space for traveling shows, contemporary artwork and is the urban campus for the School of Fine Arts.
Founded in 1805, PAFA is the nation’s first art museum and school of fine arts. The museum’s Historic Landmark Building houses works by leading American artists, as well as works by distinguished Academy alumni and faculty. Important early acquisitions include paintings by Benjamin West, a native Pennsylvanian and president of the Royal Academy in London.
Today, the Academy also features a large collection of contemporary art in the Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building, which includes artists such as Bo Bartlett, Alex Katz, Faith Ringgold, Robert Ryman, Betye Saar, and Kehinde Wiley.
Winslow Homer’s depiction of a russet-hued fox gracefully sprawled in gleaming white snow is a perennial favorite.
related tours & Attractions
Top Picks for April Art Happenings In And Around The City
Get out and enjoy the best art events and exhibitions this month
Top Picks for February Art Happenings In And Around The City
Fall in love With Art this month