Friday, September 28, 2012

Day 19/60: Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts

Wednesday, 9/26: Plus the Rodin Museum

This morning we took a taxi downtown to visit the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. While we were hung up in traffic for a few moments, I had the good fortune to photograph one of Philadelphia's wonderful street murals.

Common Threads, 1998
by Meg Saligman (born 1965)
Jan's photo
PAFA is located right downtown, across the street from the Convention Center and about a block from Philly's iconic City Hall. The museum is housed in two buildings, and the lane between them has been turned into a friendly public area by a long, curving wood bench. The activity was so intense that we spent a long time taking photos and people-watching.

Philadelphia Convention Center
Dan's photo
Paint Torch, 2011
by Claes Oldenburg (born 1929)
Dan's photo
Philadelphia City Hall
Dan's photo
The museum's older building is a rare specimen of Victorian architecture by Frank Furness, an architect who lived from 1839 to 1912. Dating from 1876, it is characterized by eclectic borrowing from earlier periods and a mix of materials. Victorian architecture is not much in favor and many examples have been demolished, so it is quite a marvel to encounter it in a modern city. The interior decoration seems mismatched and overdone to the point of being quirky and endearing. With clear, white light overall, it is a fine home for American art.

Entrance to PAFA; Dan's photo
Victorian Interior; Dan's photo
Consisting of both an art school and a museum, the Pennsylvania Academy was founded in 1805, and it is the oldest institution of its type in the nation. Quite a distinction! Our third president, Thomas Jefferson was in office at the time.

It was founded by a group of artists and businessmen that included Charles Willson Peale, one of America's most important cultural leaders in his period. Like Jefferson, he was a "man of letters"—an all-round scholar, educator, and self-promotor. Nowadays we think of him mainly as an artist, best known for his portrait paintings of leading figures of the American Revolution. Fittingly, PAFA has an important group of his work.

George Washington at Princeton, 1779 
by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827)
Dan's photo
Further perpetuating his legacy, Peale had ten children; all were named for famous artists, and all of them became respectable painters themselves, though most of them had other professions. His younger brother James was also a noted painter.  PAFA has a significant group by the Peale family.

Self-Portrait, c. 1845
by Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860)
Jan's photo
Charles Willson Peale's more famous contemporaries, John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West, both fled the Revolutionary War to live England, but they are both well represented at PAFA. Copley developed a reputation as a portraitist before he left.

Robert 'King' Hooper , 1767
by John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)
 Dan's photo

Though he was American born, Benjamin West became the second president of the Royal Academy of Arts in London (after Joshua Reynolds). Yet his work is in every collection of American art. He was a very talented painter, and his small scale works are often charming. His contemporaries thought his most important work was his monumental historical and mythological paintings. These seem comically over-theatrical nowadays, and they occupy a lot of space, so they are mostly in storage. PAFA has a few of these on display; they look like the spaces where they hang were designed for them.

Death on the Pale Horse, 1817
by Benjamin West (1738-1820)
Dan's photo
In a calmer mood and more reasonable size, West depicted an important event in American history.

Penn's Treaty with the Indians, 1771-72
by Benjamin West (1738-1820)
Dan's Photo
One of PAFA's most famous teachers was Thomas Eakins, so it is fitting that they now own what may be his greatest painting, The Gross Clinic. This painting was long owned by Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia; we had seen it there several years back, but photography was not allowed. Financial considerations and the desire to make the painting available to art lovers finally brought the painting to a proper museum.

Detail of The Gross Clinic by Thomas Eakins, 1875
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (owned in conjunction with Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Dan's photo
The influential painter Robert Henri was educated at the Academy; he was a protege of Thomas Eakins. He went on to become an important teacher at the New York School of Art.

Ruth St. Denis in the Peacock Dance, 1919
by Robert Henri (1865-1929)
Dan's photo

Much to its credit, PAFA has a history of promoting women artists and art educators. When we were there they had several wonderful works by women who were unknown to me.

A Motion Picture (Self-Portrait), 1912
by Margaret Foster Richardson (1881- c. 1945)
Jan's photo
Self-Portrait, 1937
by Priscilla Roberts (1916-2001)
Jan's photo
They also had paintings by moderately well-known American women.

Young Woman, 1937
by Isabel Bishop (1902-1988)
Jan's photo
Picnic at Bedford Hills, 1918
by Florine Stettheimer (1871-1944)
Dan's photo

Midi et Demi (Half-Past Noon), 1956-57
by Dorthea Tanning (1910-2012)
Dan's photo

One of the big stars of American painting, Georgia O'Keeffe, is represented by a gorgeous example from her flower series.

Red Canna, 1923
by Georgia O'Keeffe, 1887-1986
Jan's photo

The museum was showing a very interesting group of social realist works depicting large groups of people in public events.

Mine Disaster, 1933
by Philip Evergood (1901-1973)
Dan's photo

Lucky Daredevils (The Thrill of Death), 1931
by Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)
Dan's photo

John Brown Going to His Hanging, 1942
by Horace Pippin (1888-1946)
Dan's photo

A prominent feature of American art in the Victorian era was neoclassical figure sculpture, especially in marble. PAFA's collection includes most of the big names.

19th Century gallery; Jan's photo
Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii, 1859
by Randolph Rogers (1825-1892)
Jan's photo

Hypathia, 1873
by Howard Roberts (1843-1900)
Jan's photo

It was pleasant to see the students from the Academy's art school copying the masterpieces in a long-honored tradition.

Dan's photo
Jan's photo

Jan's photo
My only complaint about our visit to PAFA is that the old building was very cold; every minute I felt the congestion building in my head. We had lunch at their small cafe: both of us had a mound of tuna on a slice of tomato with a bunch of greens.

Then we went across the lane to the other building. On the exterior, it seemed to be a converted department store, unnoticeable. The bottom floor was the museum's exhibition space. We surmise that classrooms occupy the rest of the building. They had a large an impressive Eric Fischl exhibit; no photography allowed; I grabbed a shot from the Internet just to give you an idea.

 Scenes of Late Paradise – The Welcome, 2007 by Eric Fischl
Internet grab 
Fischl's main subject is nudity and blunt sensuality. He takes photos compulsively. He especially likes beaches of Europe where nudity and partial nudity are accepted. He wants to see naked bodies interacting in normal ways instead of painting nudes in classical poses. He makes collages of his photos and then paints the collages.

By the time we were finished, we were both dragging. But we revived a little during the taxi ride, and spontaneously got the driver to stop when he arrived at the Rodin Museum, which was only a block from our motel. This museum had been closed for a few years for renovation, but I didn't notice any changes since our previous visit. The garden and pavilion have an elegant, Parisian atmosphere. The collection of Rodin is about the same size as the one at Stanford; at Stanford more work is displayed outside. Anyway, there is a lot of Rodin around so not much is new to us. (You can only mourn for the Burghers of Calais so many times.)

The Rodin Museum, 1929
Dan's photo

The Age of Bronze
 by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Modeled in clay 1875-77
cast in bronze 1925
Dan's photo
By the time we got back to the motel, I was too exhausted to eat and went straight to bed. Dan managed to walk up to the Belgian Café for dinner; there wasn't really any alternative in the neighborhood.

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