R.A.H. (againstathorn) wrote,

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Saturday morning I took the train down to Philly to visit the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I hadn’t been to the former before so I decided on visiting it first.

My only interest at the PAFA was their permanent collection of American paintings in the Furness-Hewitt Building. A grand staircase leads you up to the upstairs hall whereby you enter a number of large exhibition galleries. It’s an awesome set up. The first thing you notice after making your way up the staircase are two huge Benjamin West paintings, Death on a Pale Horse and The Rejection of Christ, on either side of the floor. There both extremely busy works with a lot of heavy religious and literary allusions, so much that when the latter was first exhibited patrons were given a 3 page guide for explanation. Now that’s ambitious. They definitely make a solid first impression.

The best place to start seemed to be the Peale room. The academy was founded in 1805 by painter Charles Willson Peale. Following his lead his children, most notably the aptly named Raphaelle and Rembrandt, became established painters as well, primarily in portrait and still life genres. Included are in this collection is Charles Wilson Peale’s portrait of Washington and depiction of Noah’s Ark where the animals are presented in an almost scientific fashion. Along with West and Thomas Cole it’s fascinating to see the work of American painters who produced historical and landscape works as well as pieces directly referencing Christianity. Apparently it was more of a late 18th and early 19th century thing. I guess you had to be there.

Ok, I admit that before going to the PAFA I’d studied a cook on the collection I made note of all the pieces I was interested in seeing, thus I was already familiar with certain paintings. Then again, there was quite a bit of work from art I’d never heard of but yet enjoyed, such as a historical painter named Peter Rothermal who produced two bad-ass works, De Sato Raising the Cross on the Mississippi and Last Sign of the Moor. The latter depicts the moors leaving Granada after it was conquered by the Spanish. I really enjoyed this nineteenth century artist’s work and I’m disappointed more of his pieces aren’t featured in other American collections—and on that note he’s not even mentioned in my book on the PAFA collection even those he was a faculty member. Other painters new to me included the Vermeer-esqe William McGregor Paxton with Girl Sweeping, Christian Schussele’s King Solomon and the Iron Worker, Anna Elizabeth Klumpke’s In the Wash House, Evening by tonalist-and-possibly-Inness-copycat Dwight W. Tryon, and two massive Civil War themed pieces, Final Assault upon Fort Fisher, North Carolina by Xanthus Smith and Battery of Light Artillery en Route by William Trego.

Some neat albeit smaller landscape work from the Hudson River School were on display, such as Asher Durand’s Landscape with Creek and Rocks and Thomas Doughty’s Landscape with Curving River. This genre of painting was also represented abroad by American artists in works such as Jasper Cropsey’s Landscape Figures of Rome, Thomas Moran’s Turner-inspired Venice and Sanford Robinson Gifford’s small but stunning St. Peter’s from Pincian Hill. Other landscapes of note were Edmund Darch Lewis’s Lake Willoughby and George Innes’s Woodland Scene, but my attention was arrested by an almost cinematic painting by William Trost Richards called February. It’s stuck as a very somber, moody piece of work.

Speaking of somber, there were a few pieces by Henry Ossawa Tanner, including a religious work Nicodemus. Ever since seeing Tanner’s Annunciation at the Philly Museum of Art I’ve been fascinated by this painter’s method and approach.

Two works which I was really taken aback by were Alexander Harrison’s The Wave and Daniel Ridgeway Knight’s Hailing the Ferry. I’d seen both in my collection book but in order to really appreciate them you really must see them in person. Both are just so beautiful and engage your attention from everything else on the wall. In terms of subject matter they both qualify as Romantic but they're executed with the utmost realism. Again, really incredible paintings.

Along with some outstanding still life pieces by the Peales there are some excellent works of the genre by latter artists as well, such as Still Life by William Michael Harnet, a couple dead bird pictures by Alexander Pope, John Fredrick Peto’s Fish House Door, and a really simple and simple yet clever piece by George Cope, Spectacles. The focal point of the painting is literally the shadow of the spectacles spanning over the side of a page, quite possibly the sort of work only another still life artist could appreciate.

There are also some intimate interior paintings such as Edmund Tarbell’s The Breakfast Room. I was hoping to catch William Henry Lippincott’s Childish Thoughts but it wasn’t on display though I did get to see his Infantry in Arms which is executed in more or less the same vein.

One of the galleries included a large portrait piece, Pat Lyon at the Forge by John Neagle. The work was made more interesting to me after discovering that the Boston Museum of Fine Arts also has a canvas of this painting by the same artist. The look the same at first glance but the one at the BMFA has a few objects taken out of the middle to lower right-hand side. Strange. Also featured are a number of Cecilia Beaux portraits, an Ivan Albright which is immediately identifiable, and a very characteristic Robert Henri piece.

Oh yeah, and also on display was Thomas Eakins’s The Gross Clinic. I honestly didn’t expect that it’d be out, but there it was. Nice surprise.

So yeah, the PAFA ruled, to put it bluntly. I spent about an hour and a half there though one could easily walk through the galleries in the span of 10 minutes. I was really impressed with the building and the exhibition spaces, and it’s very likely that someday I’ll visit again.

Afterward I headed up the Benjamin Franklin parkway to the Philadelphia Museum at Art. I’ve already written an excessively long and boring entry about this place but I’ll go over some works of interest anyway. This time I started off in the American Wing where there was only one change since last fall—they had Eakin’s Agnew Clinic out on display. Wow. Two unexpected Eakins Clinics in one day. Anyway, Agnew Clinic was painted 14 years after the Gross and also features a horizontal composition. The angle is a bit more detached and there more emphasis on the background. There both fine pieces of work with strong qualities but I’m going to have to Gross Clinic has a much more sudden emotional impact whereas Agnew takes longer to sink in. I don’t prefer one over the other though, and they are indeed two entirely different works of art.

Other works of interest in the American Wing included two Peaceful Kingdoms and two historical works by the Folk Art Puritan oddball Edward Hicks, Frank Benson’s The Artist’s Daughters, Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Boy and Sheep under a Tree, and two works both called A Coming Storm, one by Sanford Gifford and the other by William Bradford. Since seeing these pieces last Fall I’ve learned so much about these two particular artists as well as the other painters of the Hudson River School.

From there I went to the European Art and Sculpture galleries. Pieces of note included Jean-Francois Millet’s Solitude, Jules Bastien-Lepage’s The Thames, London, and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Goatherd of Terni. The same Alma–Tadema painting was up as before but this time I noticed the woman’s sensual feet in the lower left end. One could almost describe them as erotic but they’re anything but profane. I also really enjoyed this one particular piece called Solitude by an unfamiliar artist named Jean-Charles Cazin. Oh yeah, and there was actually a Monet I liked, Waterloo Bridge, London: Morning Fog, though it has more to do with the city scenery than the impressionistic play on light. I’ve never been terribly interested in impressionism whether it'd be European or American, and when I see work in usually continue on my way. Lastly in this section I must mention to seascapes of Gustave Courbet. Man, I love his marine works. He painted the ocean as if it were a nasty, wild animal. Awesome.

Afterward I walked though the early European art galleries, making my way clockwise from the Netherlandish, German, and finally the Italian works. I noticed Josse Lieferinxe’s four panel framepiece on the life of St. Sebastian which was missing two panels on account of them being on loan for the Kings Queens and Courtiers exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. I also took the backway through the galleries of Asian Art where there were some truly incredible statues as well as massive works on installation. Very cool.

From there I continued on through the Europeans galleries. Only major difference since last fall was the small room showcasing the reproductive print works of David Teniers II was replaced with a collection of anonymous paintings from Cologne of which were purchased avidly by John G. Johnson. I also took another look at the gallery display Mexican artists. I’d purchased a huge book called The Arts in Latin American 1492 – 1820 but I still have yet to thoroughly study it and put everything in it’s appropriate, if you know what I mean. I do find it interesting and quite logical that a lot of the smaller works where painted on copper instead of regular canvas. One Mexican painters of note, whose work is displayed alongside the likes of Ribera, Murrillo, and Zurbaran, is Fray Miguel de Herrera. The noticeable difference from the other artists is that de Herrera’s paintings are devoid of any baroque influence.

One last item of note was a flower and fruit still life by Eugene Delacroix. Yeah, I’d never seen a still life by him either, as he’s typically known for ambitious literally and historical works.

So yeah, that was my visit to the PAFA and the Philly Museum of Art. Afterward I made a stop at the Pearlman Building but was not interested in any of the exhibits or other works on display, though it should be noted at that point I was pretty burnt out and hungry. I guess I’ll leave it at that.

Tags: 2011 philly summer, museums
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