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The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is a museum and art school in Philadelphiamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker. It was founded in 1805 and 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.


Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts was founded in 1805 by painter and scientist Charles Willson Peale, sculptor William Rush, and other artists and business leaders. The growth of the Academy of Fine Arts was slow. It held its exhibitions for many years in a modern building of the Ionic order designed by John Dorsey which was built in 1806, and stood on the site of the American Theater on Chestnut Street. It opened as a museum in 1807 and held its first exhibition in 1811 where more than 500 paintings and statuary were on display. The first school classes held in the building were with the Society of Artists in 1810. The Academy was reconstructed after the fire of 1845, and 23 years later steps were taken to construct a building more worthy of its treasures, the current Furness-Hewitt building opened in 1876.
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In 1876, former Academy student Thomas Eakins returned to teach as a volunteer. Fairman Rogers, chairman of the Committee on Instruction, 1878–83, made him a faculty member in 1878, and promoted him to director in 1882. Eakins 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.

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.

Women at the Academy

The 1844 Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts declaration that women artists “would have exclusive use of the statue gallery for professional purposes” and study time in the museum on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings signifies a significant advance towards formal training in art for women. Prior to the founding of the Academy, there were limited opportunities for women to receive professional training in the United States. Realizing the rise in interest of young women, this period between the mid-19th and early 20th century shows a remarkable growth of formally trained women artists.

By 1860 female students were allowed to take anatomy and antique courses (drawing from antique casts). In addition, women enjoyed their newly acquired library and gallery access. Life classes, the study of the nude body, were available to women in the spring of 1868 with female models and with male models six years later. This came after much debate on the appropriateness of women viewing the nude male form.

It took 24 years before women could take full advantage of all aspects of training at the prestigious institution. After 1868 women took more active leadership roles and achieved influential positions. For example, Catherine Drinker, at the age of 27, was the first woman to teach at the academy in 1878. One of her pupils, her younger cousin Cecilia Beaux, would leave a lasting legacy at the academy as the first female faculty member to instruct painting and drawing beginning in 1895. By the 1880s women had become competitors against men for top accolades and recognitions. Not until much later, however, did the academy gain its first woman on the Board of Directors in 1950.

Even as women artists were making progress in the United States, it remained more difficult in Europe. Women that chose to travel overseas typically studied the works of master artists in the galleries not in classes. In this regard, the U.S. was more progressive than Europe at the time.

The Academy Today

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The Museum

Since its founding, the Academy has collected works by leading American artists, as well as works by distinguished alumni and faculty of its school. 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. The collection is installed in a chronological and thematic format, exploring the history of American art from the 1760s to the present.

The school

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 Pennsylvaniamarker. 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 the Academy BFA degree program offered exclusively in-house, its Master of Fine Arts program, a Post Baccaluareate Certificate in Graduate Studies, extensive continuing education offerings, as well as programs for children and families.

The Furness-Hewitt building

Academy of Fine Arts.
The current museum building opened in 1876. Designed by the American architects Frank Furness and George 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.

1876 opening notes:
The newly-built Academy of Fine Arts will bear comparison with any institution of its kind in America. It has a front of one hundred feet on Broad Street and a depth of two hundred and fifty-eight feet on Cherry Street. Its situation, with a street on each of its three sides, and an open space along a considerable portion of the fourth, is very advantageous as regards lighting, and freedom from risk by fire.

It is built of brick, the principal entrance, which is two stories high, being augmented with encaustic tiles, terra-cotta statuary, and light stone dressings. The walls are laid in patterns of red and white brick. Over the main entrance on Broad Street there is a large Gothic window with stone tracery. The Cherry Street front is relieved by a colonnade supporting arched windows, back of which is the transept and pointed gable.

Beyond the entrance vestibule is the main staircase, which starts from a wide hall and leads to the galleries on the second floor. Along the Cherry Street side of the Academy are five galleries arranged for casts from the antique; and, further on, are rooms for drapery painting, and the life class. These have a clear north light which can never be obstructed.

On the south side, there is a large lecture room, with retiring rooms, and back of these are the modeling rooms and rooms devoted to the use of students and professors.

On the second floor is the main hall, which extends across the building, and is intended for the exhibition of large works of art. This story is divided into galleries, which are lighted from the top. Through the center runs a hall which is set apart for the exhibition of statuary, busts, small statues, bas-reliefs, etc. On each side of this hall are picture galleries, which are so arranged in size and form as to admit of classification of pictures, and which can be divided into suits where separate exhibitions may be held at the same time.

The art collections of the gallery are considered the most valuable in America. They comprise the masterpieces of Stuart, Sully, Allston, West, and others of our early artists, the Gilpin gallery, fine marbles, and facsimiles of famous statues, as well as a magnificent gallery from the antique.

The Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building

In 2002 Mrs. Dorrance H. Hamilton made a large donation to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts that allowed them to purchase the former federal building and automobile factory at 128 N. Broad Street immediately adjacent to the Frank Furness building. It was renamed in memory of her husband, The Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building, renovated, and the School of Fine Arts of the Academy completed its move there in September 2006. The building also contains a special exhibition space called the Fisher Brooks Gallery. It is named after Leonie Brooks and James R. Fisher, an artist who attended PAFA in the late 1880s. They are the mother and grandfather respectively of Marguerite Lenfest, philanthropist and board member of PAFA.

List of Notable Academy Students, Faculty, and Leadership

Notable Academy students, faculty, and leaders include:

Current News

In 2005, the Academy received the National Medal of Arts which was presented by the President of the United States of America, recognizing the Academy as a leader in fine arts education.

In January 2007, the Pennsylvania Academy, in association with the Philadelphia Museum of Artmarker, purchased the Thomas Eakins's masterpiece, The Gross Clinic, from the Jefferson Medical Schoolmarker. 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.

In January 2009, PAFA signed a historic transfer agreement with Camden County College (NJ). The first such agreement in the history of the School of Fine Arts, the "Camden Connection" allows for the transfer of liberal arts and studio classes as well as providing, on a competitive basis, for partial merit scholarships specifically for Camden County College students. Other transfer agreements are planned with various well-respected community college art departments such as the Community College of Philadelphia, Montgomery County Community College, and Northampton County College.


  1. The Pennsylvania Academy and its women, 1850–1920 / [catalogue of an exhibition held] May 3 – June 16, 1974 [at the] Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1974, pg. 12
  2. May, Stephen, “And Enduring Legacy: The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1805–2005” Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1805–2005 : 200 years of excellence / essays by Mark Hain ... [et al.] ; catalogue entries by Alex Baker ... [et al.]. Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 2005, pg.16
  3. The Pennsylvania Academy and its women, 1850–1920 / [catalogue of an exhibition held] May 3 – June 16, 1974, pg. 17
  4. The Pennsylvania Academy and its women, 1850–1920, pg.19
  5. Yount, Sylvia…[et al.], Cecilia Beaux: American Figure Painter, Atlanta : High Museum of Art ; Berkeley : University of California Press, 2007, pg. 36
  6. *

  • The Pennsylvania Academy and its women, 1850–1920 / [catalogue of an exhibition held] May 3 – June 16, 1974 [at the] Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1974.
  • May, Stephen, “And Enduring Legacy: The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1805–2005” Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1805–2005 : 200 years of excellence / essays by Mark Hain ... [et al.] ; catalogue entries by Alex Baker ... [et al.]. Philadelphia, PA: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 2005.
  • Yount, Sylvia [et al.]. Cecilia Beaux: American Figure Painter. Atlanta: High Museum of Art ; Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

External links

[Category:Educational institutions established in 1805]]

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