May 9, 1849 (Wednesday)

Clear once more.

Visited the Academy of Fine Arts this evening.  The rooms are well filled.  There are many excellent paintings, while some of the statuary is really splendid.

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts was founded by artists Charles Wilson Peale, Rembrandt Peale, William Rush and the sixty-eight others who signed the charter on December 26, 1805.  The Academy, established “for the encouragement of fine arts,” had exhibition space, a museum, and an art school. Benjamin West was the first honorary member and by the 1860s the Academy was training future luminaries like Thomas Eakins and Mary Cassatt.

For many years the Academy was located on the north side of Chestnut Street, between 10th and 11th Streets. The original building was heavily damaged by fire in 1845 but was rebuilt and expanded in 1847. The exhibition Nathan saw had opened on May 7.  There were several rooms of paintings and drawings by notables such as West, Rothermel, and Gilbert Stuart (the Academy had acquired the so-called “Landsdowne Portrait” of George Washington in 1811).  New this season was a room, draped in crimson fabric, full of marble statuary mostly depicting classical subjects like Hero, Venus, and Proserpine.

“Altogether, the works in this gallery [i.e., the statuary room], whether viewed singly or collectively, are of so high a grade of art, that the visiter must leave them reluctantly, though intending to see them all, again and again,” reported the Philadelphia Inquirer in its May 10 issue.

The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts survived some lean years but is still going strong, 206 years later. Located at 118-128 North Broad Street, it is America’s oldest art museum and school.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

Sources:

“Early PAFA Buildings.” Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts http://www.pafa.org/Museum/Research-Archives/The-Buildings/Early-PAFA-Buildings/62/ : accessed 7 May 2011.

“History and Timeline.” Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts http://www.pafa.org/Museum/Research-Archives/History-and-Timeline/59/ ” accessed 7 May 2011.

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