Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

by Rowland Elzea

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia was founded in 1805; it is the country's oldest art school in continuous existence and was the first public art museum in the United States. The Academy is the direct descendant of the Columbianum, which was, in turn, the successor of a drawing school started in 1791 by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Its importance as an art school and museum has continued to this day. The paintings and sculptures acquired in the last 175 years afford a unique opportunity to study the changes in taste that have occurred during that time.

The Academy's annual exhibitions, held from 1811 to 1969, were important forums for the display of contemporary art.

The Academy's present building was designed by the Philadelphia architect Frank Furness (1839-1912) and was completed in 1876. Designed in an extremely rich mixture of French Gothic and Renaissance revival styles, the structure is now recognized as Furness's masterpiece. The entire building, including its opulent polychrome decoration in masonry, tiles, metalwork, and painted plaster, was completely restored in 1976.

Bibliography: Brown, Milton W., American Art to 1900, 1977; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, In This Academy, 1976.

© Copyright 1993, Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.

For more information about this venerable school, contact the Academy directly:

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
118 North Broad Street
PA 19102-1510 USA
Tel. 215-972-7600


Richard Oliver OSB | E.A. Oliver (1872-1937): Philadelphia artist
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