Painters and Painting


Philadelphia has a long, distinguished history as a center of American painting. In addition to the work of individuals and artistic family dynasties, the history of Philadelphia painters is linked with the city’s art schools, particularly the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), founded in 1805. Working locally and abroad, Philadelphia painters have connected the region with artistic trends and have produced works that made Philadelphia known to the nation and the world.

An eighteenth century style portait created by Gustavus Hesselius depicting a woman.
Gustavus Hesselius painted this portrait of an unidentified woman in 1751. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Portraiture was the first subject to prove lucrative for American artists. In colonial Philadelphia, as in other early American cities, those who gained sufficient wealth to acquire art usually first purchased paintings of themselves and their families. Portraits validated personal status and wealth and served to venerate loved ones. Wedding portraits—pairs of paintings depicting husbands and wives, created around the time of their wedding—were very popular. Philadelphians also commissioned more portrait miniatures, typically painted in watercolor on ivory, than the residents of any other American city.

Although English art influenced most early Philadelphia painters, the first notable portraitist was Swedish-born Gustavus Hesselius (1682-1755), who settled in Philadelphia around 1735. His best-known canvases depict the Lenape chiefs Lapowinsa and Tishcohan (c. 1735); these are rare early portraits of Native Americans. Hesselius’s son John (1728-78), born in Philadelphia, also painted portraits. Other early portraitists, including the itinerant artists Robert Feke (c. 1705/07- c. 52) and John Wollaston (active 1742-75), visited Philadelphia in search of commissions.

A celebratory portrait of Benjamin Franklin celebrating his scientific accomplishments.
Benjamin West created this portrait to celebrate the life of his close friend, Benjamin Franklin. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Like others, Benjamin West (1738-1820) painted the city’s social, political, and business leaders, but he also diversified into historical, biblical, and mythological subjects that helped to establish a shared national iconography. Born near Philadelphia in Springfield, Pennsylvania— in a house that became part of the campus of Swarthmore College—West became the first American artist recognized abroad. In 1763 he moved to England, an important destination and stylistic influence for American painters during the colonial and early federal eras. West ascended to president of the Royal Academy, and in that role he influenced numerous younger artists including the Philadelphia painters Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860), and Thomas Sully (1773-1872).

Peale Dynasty

The first of the region’s artistic dynasties emerged from the family of Charles Willson Peale, a central figure in Philadelphia’s art world as a painter, museum founder, and patriarch of a family of artists and scientists. Born in Chester, Maryland, Peale moved in 1776 to Philadelphia, where he established Peale’s Museum a decade later. Peale became best known for his portraits of Revolutionary War notables: George Washington, who posed for him seven times between 1772 and 1795, appears in many variant portraits; and Benjamin Franklin, who posed in 1785, was painted again four years later in a variant that references his lightning experiment. Portraits of these men and others—including Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock—were displayed in Peale’s museum of natural history alongside scientific specimens, making a powerful statement of nationalistic pride.

Peale married three times and fathered seventeen children, including the painters Rembrandt, Raphaelle (1774-1825), and Titian (1799-1885), all named for famous artists. Rembrandt Peale, like his father, became known for portraits of Washington, who posed for the Peales in person more often than for any other artist. Raphaelle Peale emerged as the first professional American still life painter. Titian Ramsay Peale, an artist-naturalist, accompanied expeditions to Florida and Georgia, the Rocky Mountains, and South America and illustrated publications based on these journeys. Charles Willson Peale’s brother James (1749-1831) was also an artist, specializing in portrait miniatures and still lifes, the same subjects painted by his daughter Anna Claypoole (1791-1878). James’ daughters Margaretta Angelica (1795-1882) and Sarah Miriam (1800-1885) specialized in still life. In 1824, Anna and Sarah Peale were the first women elected academicians at PAFA.

As America’s leading financial center and the nation’s capital in the 1790s, Philadelphia attracted immigrant artists and painters from the surrounding region. Rhode Island-born Gilbert Stuart, one of America’s most skillful early portraitists and a student of Benjamin West in London, began a ten-year residence in Germantown in 1795. During that period, George Washington posed for Stuart one day and for the Peales the next. Stuart created three portraits of Washington: the bust-length Athenaeum portrait (1796) that appears on the one dollar bill; the bust-length Vaughan portrait (1795); and the full-length Lansdowne portrait of Washington in his study (1796). Stuart himself painted and sold many copies of these three portrait types.

Popularity of Marine Painting

As an important port city, Philadelphia also supported a robust group of marine painters who produced seascapes, a popular Romantic-era subject, and harbor scenes that appealed to patrons who founded their fortunes on overseas trade. One of the first marine specialists was the English-born Thomas Birch (1779-1851), who came to the United States with his artist father William Birch (1755-1834). In addition to painting ships at sea and harbor scenes, the younger artist assisted his father in preparing a portfolio of twenty-nine engravings known as Birch’s Views of Philadelphia (1800).

The next generation of Philadelphia marine painters included James Hamilton (1819-78) and his student Edward Moran (1829-1901). Hamilton’s romantic marine paintings often represented the passions of nature, with stormy weather and glowing red sunsets. Moran specialized in painting ships at sea; by the 1890s, he was widely considered America’s leading marine painter. Moran came from an artistic Philadelphia family. His brother Thomas (1837-1926), the most famous of the Morans, also studied with Hamilton; both brothers eventually left for New York, the country’s economic and artistic capital beginning in the mid-1820s. Their younger brothers, painters Peter (1841-1914) and John (1831-1902), gained less distinction.

In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, cultural institutions and artists’ societies enhanced Philadelphia as a center for art. Charles Willson Peale and his colleagues founded two of the nation’s first art schools. The Columbianum (1794), a loose association of artists, intended to hold exhibitions and start an art school; it sponsored the first display of American art in 1795, but closed the same year. The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, founded in 1805, became more successful; by the twenty-first century it was the oldest American art school still in operation and maintained an impressive museum of American art. The Society of Arts (1810) offered art classes from 1811 until 1814. The Artists’ Fund Society of Philadelphia (1834) organized exhibitions and aided needy artists and their families. The Artists’ and Amateurs’ Association of Philadelphia (1839) promoted American art in a city whose citizens then preferred to purchase paintings imported from Europe.

Portraiture, including iconic images of national leaders, remained a competitive enterprise in the nineteenth century. The English-born Thomas Sully led the field, followed by John Neagle (1796-1865) and Bass Otis (1784-1861). Sully worked in a dramatic, painterly manner like Gilbert Stuart, with whom he studied briefly. Over time, PAFA acquired more than forty portraits by Sully and more than twenty by Neagle, his son-in-law and former student. Neagle took an active role in the city’s art circles, serving as director of PAFA (1830-31) and as a founder and president (1835-43) of the Artists’ Fund Society.

A claudian landscape painting depicting the Delaware Water Gap.
Thomas Doughty portrayed the Delaware Water Gap in this 1827 painting. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Landscapes also appealed to Philadelphian patrons. Paintings of American scenery by Joshua Shaw (1776-1860) and Thomas Doughty (1793-1856), two of the nation’s first landscape painters, conveyed pride in the young republic. Shaw, one of the painters who founded the Artists’ and Amateurs’ Association of Philadelphia and promoted the Artists’ Fund Society, came to Philadelphia from England in 1819. Doughty, a native of Philadelphia, became the first American-born landscape painter. Referencing European culture, their romanticized landscapes include stylized trees framing the scene, dark foregrounds, small figures that provide a focal point, central lakes or streams, and distant hills. Philadelphians considered them more sophisticated than straightforward paintings of identifiable American places.

John Lewis Krimmel

German-born John Lewis Krimmel (1786-1821) focused his attention on distinct local scenes. A student of Sully, Krimmel lived in Philadelphia from 1809 until his death in 1821. As America’s first specialist in genre subjects, or scenes of everyday life, Krimmel painted Election Day (1815) and Fourth of July Celebration in Centre Square, Philadelphia (1819). These lively street scenes include individuals of various ages and professions. With works such as Black People’s Prayer Meeting (1813), Krimmel also became one of the first American artists to depict life among free blacks. Genre paintings, popular in times of change, continued to be produced during the three decades before the Civil War. They were painted by many Philadelphia artists, including William and Thomas Birch, Thomas Sully, John Neagle, Bass Otis, Christian Schussele (1824-79), and Peter F. Rothermel (1812-95).

Local history figured in the work of Edward Hicks (1780-1849), a Langhorne, Pennsylvania native who lived in the area his entire life. A Quaker minister, Hicks learned sign painting to supplement his income. He painted several canvases depicting William Penn’s treaty with the Indians and occasionally included the same subject in the background of The Peaceable Kingdom, a Biblical subject he painted many times.

Iconic American images of a different type were made by John James Audubon (1785-1851). Born in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and raised in France, Audubon came to the United States in 1803 and lived initially at Mill Grove, a farm near Valley Forge owned by his father. An artist-naturalist like Peale, Audubon created a groundbreaking color-plate book, Birds of America, first published in 1827, containing hand-colored engravings of over seven hundred North American bird species.

Paintings of American history provided symbolic validation of the republic. Philadelphia’s leading history painters at mid-century were Peter F. Rothermel, born in Nescopeck, Pennsylvania, and Christian Schussele, born in Alsace, France. Rothermel, a student of Bass Otis, specialized in portraits and dramatic historical subjects, including the 16-by-32-foot Battle of Gettysburg (1870) at the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg. Schussele’s group portraits—Men of Progress (1862), depicting famous American inventors, and Washington Irving and his Literary Friends at Sunnyside (1864)— celebrated American inventors, writers, and the beginnings of an American national culture. Both painters became active in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts: Rothermel as director from 1847 to 1855 and Schussele as the first professor of drawing and painting from 1868 until his death in 1879.

PAFA’s Broad Influence

Thomas Eakins based his painting The Gross Clinic off of an actual lecture given by Dr. Gross during a surgery. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Thomas Eakins based his 1875 painting The Gross Clinic on a lecture by Dr. Gross. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts played an important role in the generation of painters who made their mark on the art world in the United States and in Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Painter, sculptor, and photographer Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), who studied at PAFA in the 1860s before continuing his training in Europe, returned to teach from 1876 to 1886. In addition to portraits of wealthy individuals he painted subjects ranging from shad fishing on the Delaware to William Rush carving his allegorical figure of the Schuylkill River; from singers, scullers, and boxers to boys swimming and women spinning. Eakins’ realistic portraits explored the personality as well as external appearance of his sitters. Among them are The Gross Clinic (1875)— considered shocking at the time because it depicts a bloody surgical procedure in progress—and boating scenes such as Max Schmidt in a Single Scull (1871). Following an influential decade teaching at PAFA, in which he emphasized anatomical studies and working from the nude, Eakins was forced to resign after removing the loincloth from a male model in a class that included female students.

Students and teachers at PAFA were among the American painters who turned to Paris, rather than London, to develop and exhibit their talents during the final decades of the nineteenth century. Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), born into a wealthy family near Pittsburgh, began taking classes at PAFA at the age of fifteen. She settled permanently in Paris in 1871, following a trip abroad with fellow Philadelphia artist Emily Sartain (1841-1927). In Paris Cassatt became a friend of Edgar Degas (1834-1917) and exhibited portraits of friends and family members with the French Impressionists.

Cecelia Beaux (1855-1942), born in Philadelphia, trained with Christian Schussele at the Academy. Beaux studied art in France from 1888 to 1889, then returned to paint portraits of Philadelphia’s high society in a style reminiscent of John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). In 1895, she became the first woman to hold a regular teaching position at PAFA, where she taught until 1916.

Born in Pittsburgh, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), a student of Thomas Eakins and the only black student at PAFA at the time, became the first African American painter to achieve international recognition. After his PAFA training Tanner moved to Paris in 1891 and flourished. The French government made him a knight of the Legion of Honour in 1923 in recognition of his artistic career. The Philadelphia Museum of Art and PAFA acquired several of Tanner’s paintings, including his unusual interpretation of The Annunciation (1898).

As Art Market Grew, So Did Subject Matter

As the art market expanded, painters specialized in a wider variety of subjects. Two of America’s most famous trompe l’oeil specialists, the Irish-born William Michael Harnett (1848-92) and John F. Peto (1854-1907), a native of Philadelphia, painted illusionistic still lifes in the tradition of Raphaelle Peale. Both studied at PAFA, although neither artist spent his entire career in Philadelphia.

In addition to PAFA, several important Philadelphia painters studied with Howard Pyle (1853-1911), founder of the so-called Brandywine school of illustration. Philadelphia-born Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) attended Haverford College and PAFA before studying briefly with Pyle at Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry. Parrish launched his career with illustrations for L. Frank Baum’s Mother Goose in Prose (1897), although he became best known for his colorful paintings of androgynous, neo-classical women in outdoor settings.

Another student of Pyle, painter Violet Oakley (1874-1961) of Jersey City, New Jersey, attended PAFA briefly before studying illustration at Drexel. With Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935) and Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954) Oakley was one of the “Red Rose Girls,” named by Pyle for the Villanova, Pennsylvania, inn where they lived and worked at the beginning of the twentieth century. In addition to her illustration work, Oakley painted forty-three murals for the state Capitol in Harrisburg, including images of William Penn and the founding of Pennsylvania (1906, 1911-27).

While many of the region’s artists sought opportunities abroad, a group of local painters founded a movement that came to be known as Pennsylvania Impressionism. Centered primarily in New Hope, Bucks County, the group included Daniel Garber (1880-1958), W. Elmer Schofield (1867-1944), Edward Redfield (1869-1965), and Fern Coppedge (1883-1951). Like their French predecessors, they created landscapes and occasional figural subjects in a loose, painterly manner. They generally remained in the area, painting the Pennsylvania landscape that inspired them.

The Ash Can School

Other artists, including several key members of the Ash Can School, left for New York City. Painting gritty urban streets scenes and images of the poor, they were named derisively for the ash cans or dustbins then used to collect refuse from wood and coal fires. The group included the “Philadelphia Four”—George Luks (1867-1933), William Glackens (1870-1938), John Sloan (1871-1951), and Everett Shinn (1876-1953)—who studied with the realist painter Thomas Anshutz (1851-1912) at PAFA. They were also influenced by Robert Henri (1865-1929), then teaching at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (later Moore College of Art and Design). Around the turn of the century, Henri and the Philadelphia Four moved to New York.

One of the Philadelphia Four, William Glackens, also helped bring modern European art to Philadelphia. Glackens traveled to Paris in 1912 to buy paintings for collector Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951), a Philadelphian who collected Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Early Modern art with a focus on European painters. A chemist and eccentric who scorned the art world establishment, Barnes displayed the paintings in his Barnes Foundation museum and art school in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, established in 1922 and moved to Center City Philadelphia in 2012.

Philadelphia continued to produce notable painters in the twentieth century, including several early modernists inspired by Cubism. John Marin (1870-1953), born in New Jersey, studied at PAFA before spending the rest of his career in the New York area and his summers in Maine. Stuart Davis (1892-1964) was born into an artistic Philadelphia family: his mother was a sculptor, his father an art editor for the Philadelphia Press. Davis moved to New York in 1909, initially studying with Robert Henri. Arthur B. Carles (1882-1952) was born in Philadelphia and attended PAFA; after a decade in Paris and New York, he returned to teach at the academy from 1917 to 1925.

New York and Paris also attracted the artist Man Ray (1890-1976), born Emmanuel Radnitsky in Philadelphia. His early canvases exhibited Cubist influence, but in the 1920s and 1930s he painted in a Surrealist style. Man Ray considered himself a painter but became better known for the Dada-inspired assemblage sculptures and photographs he created in Paris.

Two of the best-known Precisionist painters—Charles Demuth (1883-1935) and Charles Sheeler (1883-1965)—studied at PAFA. Known for their clean, precise style, the Precisionists painted American factories, skyscrapers, and machines. Born in Lancaster, Demuth remained a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania; his Lancaster home became the Demuth Museum, exhibiting his work. Sheeler, born in Philadelphia, owned a farmhouse in Doylestown that he frequently featured in his paintings. He shared the house with his artist-friend Morton Schamberg (1881-1918), also an alumnus of PAFA, until Schamberg died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. Sheeler left Pennsylvania to spend most of his career in the New York area.

New Deal Art Program

During the Great Depression, art programs of the federal New Deal supported painters in producing new work for Philadelphia and elsewhere. The Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts sponsored mural painters across the country. Partly in response to this patronage, New Deal art was usually optimistic in mood and realistic in style. The most prominent artists to paint murals in Philadelphia were Raphael Soyer (1899-1987) and his twin brother Moses (1899-1974), who traveled from New York to decorate the Kingsessing Branch of the U.S. Post Office (1939). New Deal muralists also included local painters George Harding (1882-1959) and Walter Gardner (1902-96). Harding created extant murals for the Philadelphia Customs House (1938) and the North Philadelphia Post Office (1939); Gardner painted The Streets of Philadelphia for the Spring Garden Post Office (1937).

Horace Pippin painted images based off of his life experiences of segregation and military service. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Horace Pippin drew inspiration for his paintings from his life experiences with racism and segregation, as seen in this 1943 work titled Mr. Prejudice. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Other New Deal artists worked on a smaller scale, employed by the Federal Art Project’s Easel Division. Julius T. Bloch (1888-1966), a resident of Philadelphia, specialized in sympathetic portraits of African Americans. One depicts the self-taught painter Horace Pippin (1888-1946), who was born in West Chester and returned there after World War I to paint historical subjects and images of life among black Americans. Another African American artist, Dox Thrash (1893-1965), became best known for the Depression era paintings and prints he created between 1936 and 1939.

Philadelphia area painters have often shown a predilection for realism. Three generations of the Wyeth family—another artistic dynasty, rooted in the Brandywine Valley—specialized in realistic illustrations and paintings. N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), a former student of Howard Pyle, became best known for illustrating The Last of the Mohicans and Treasure Island. N.C. Wyeth’s son Andrew (1917-2009) painted Christina’s World (1948), the Helga series, and other works in tempera and watercolor. Andrew’s son Jamie (b. 1946) specializes in human and animal portraits.

An Alice Neel portrait depicting the famous art critic Clement Greenberg's daughter.
Alice Neel’s distinctive style can be seen in the centrality of the sitting subject and the unfinished look of the painting. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)

The region’s realist painters also included Alice Neel (1900-84), born in Merion Square (Gladwyne) and educated at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (Moore College of Art and Design). A portraitist who worked mostly in New York, Neel painted expressive images of her family and friends, fellow artists, poets, and others.

Abstract Expressionists

Several artistic movements of the twentieth century inspired followers in Philadelphia. The best-known Abstract Expressionist with a connection to the city was Franz Kline (1910-62), who was born in Wilkes-Barre but attended Girard College before leaving the area. The Abstract Expressionists James Kelly (1913-2003) and Sonia Gechtoff (b. 1926) had stronger connections to the city. Born and trained in Philadelphia, they met and married in San Francisco before moving permanently to New York. The Op Art movement inspired Virginia-born Edna Andrade (1917-2008), who studied at the Barnes Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania, and PAFA. Andrade taught at the University of the Arts for thirty years. Warren Rohrer (1927-95), born in Lancaster County, painted abstractions in a Minimalist or Color Field style and taught at the University of the Arts for twenty-five years.

This mural depicts recent immigration to South Philadelphia from Mexico. (Mary Rizzo)
Produced by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, this mural depicts recent immigration to South Philadelphia from Mexico. (Photograph by Mary Rizzo for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, Philadelphia became known as a city of murals. Through the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, founded in 1984, painters produced more than 3,800 works of public art through collaborations with community-based organizations, city agencies, schools, and philanthropic organizations. The results included Kent Twitchell’s Dr. J (1990) at 1219 Ridge Avenue, featuring former Philadelphia 76er Julius Erving, and Meg Saligman’s eight-story-high Common Threads (1998) at Broad and Spring Garden Streets, which highlighted humans’ shared concerns.

In the multi-cultural, pluralist art world of the early twenty-first century, Philadelphia’s painters ranged from avant-garde artists who combined painting with installation and other art forms – Alex Da Corte (b. 1980), Jane Irish (b. 1955), Karen Kilimnik (b. 1955), Odili Donald Odita (b. 1966) – to more traditional painters working in a range of realistic and abstract styles – Moe Brooker (b. 1940), Sarah McEneaney (b. 1955), Elizabeth Osborne (b. 1936), and Becky Suss (b. 1980). An expanding network of museums, galleries, and artists’ collectives provided fertile ground for established and emerging artists, giving Philadelphia a diverse and active art world.

Kate Nearpass Ogden, Professor of Art History at Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey, received her Ph.D. from Columbia University, New York. Her publications have focused on nineteenth-century American painting and photography.

Copyright 2015, Rutgers University


Portrait of a Woman, Gustavus Hesselius (1751)

Philadelphia Museum of Art

This is one of the many portraits by Gustavus Hesselius, a Swedish-born artist who settled in Philadelphia around 1735. Hesselius’s most famous work portrayed the Lenape chiefs Lapowinsa and Tishochan. This portrait of an unidentified woman is typical of portraits commissioned during the colonial period to document attributes such as social standing and wealth. In this case, the book in the subject's hands represents religious devotion. It reads: "O Lord I give / thee praise / for health / strength / length of / days my Age / Being Seventy- / two years and / five days April / the 25 : 1751."

Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky, Benjamin West (c. 1816)

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Benjamin West painted many portraits of influential figures from Philadelphia, including his close friend Benjamin Franklin, whom he commemorated in traditional portraits as well as this image recalling Franklin’s interest in science. In this memorial he included biblical and mythological figures expressed in the angelic children assisting Franklin in harnessing the power of lightning.

Self-Portrait in the Museum, Charles Willson Peale (1822)

Philadelphia Museum of Art

This self-portrait, created by Charles Willson Peale, shows him within his museum on the second floor of the Pennsylvania State House (later known as Independence Hall). Born in Maryland, the painter moved to Philadelphia in 1776 to reach a wider audience of clients. His museum was a extension of his painting activities during the Revolutionary War, during which he painted portraits of some of the most famous figures of the Revolution.

Philadelphia Harbor from the South, Thomas Birch (c. 1840)

Library Company of Philadelphia

In this marine scene, the ship anchored in the background (next to the yellow building) is believed to be the U.S.S. Pennsylvania, thought to be the largest man-of-war built in the United States. The artist, Thomas Birch, was the son of William Russell Birch, with whom he helped to create The City of Philadelphia, in the State of Pennsylvania North America; as it appeared in the Year 1800 (also known as Birch’s Views), a masterpiece of copperplate engraving. For that volume, Thomas Birch painted scenes of buildings and landmarks in watercolor, which an engraver then transferred to copper plate.

Delaware Water Gap (1827), Thomas Doughty

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Thomas Doughty, first American-born landscape painter, created this view of the Delaware Water Gap in an idealized "Claudian" style. Claudian landscapes were influenced by the work of Claude Gelee, a French painter (1600 or 1604/5-1682). Scenes in this style were typically framed by trees with a body of water depicted in the distance. They attempted to depict nature as more beautiful and harmonious than reality.

Portrait of Dr. Samuel D. Gross (The Gross Clinic), Thomas Eakins (1875)

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Thomas Eakins painted The Gross Clinic in anticipation of the Centennial Exhibition and its celebration of scientific accomplishments. The Gross Clinic depicts the famous surgeon Dr. Samuel Gross as he lectures during a surgical procedure. In the painting one can see the stern personality, and the seriousness of the moment, in the face of Dr. Gross as he lectures his students. The realistic portrayal of a medical lecture drew mixed reactions from its initial viewers. Some applauded Eakins’ command of composition, color, and detail; others were repulsed by what they believed to be ugly realism. This realistic portrayal of personality and setting is typical of Eakins’ work.

(Gift of the Alumni Association to Jefferson Medical College in 1878 and purchased by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007 with the generous support of more than 3,600 donors, 2007.)

The Red Rose Girls

Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

The Red Rose Girls, photographed in 1901 raising glasses for a toast, met while students of the illustrator Howard Pyle. They caused a stir by promising to not marry and to live together for life as partners. Their decision resembled the Settlement Movement, in which women would band together in order to work for various social causes and to support one another as they created a new lifestyle. Facing the camera are Violet Oakley (left) and Jessie Willcox Smith.

Mr. Prejudice, Horace Pippin (1943)

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Horace Pippin, born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, moved at a young age to Goshen, New York, where he attended segregated schools until he was 15. He left school at that age to support his ailing mother. A self-taught artist, he won his first set of crayons and a box of watercolors in an art supply company’s advertising contest. He served with the 369th infantry in World War I, where he lost the use of his right arm after being shot by a sniper. He initially turned to art to strengthen his crippled right arm and took up painting around 1930. His paintings portrayed his life experiences. Mr. Prejudice is rare in its overt treatment of racism. Mr. Prejudice, in the center of the painting, is driving a wedge in the golden V of victory, which separates black from white. The painting turns the focus of the viewer from the victory the allies were fighting for abroad to the empty victory that was being secured at home.

Clement Greenberg's Daughter, Alice Neel (1967)

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

This portrait depicts Sarah Greenberg, daughter of famous art critic Clement Greenberg (1909-94). The awkward perspective and unfinished look of the image are trademarks of Alice Neel’s style. In this and her other works, Neel paid more attention to the details of the subject of the portrait, rather than their surroundings.

A New Era of Immigration

Produced by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, this mural depicts recent immigration to South Philadelphia from Mexico. Painted by Mexicans and Mexican immigrants in South Philadelphia, the mural includes maps of both northern Mexico and South Philadelphia showing the connections between the two through people and culture. (Photograph by Mary Rizzo for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)

Related Topics


Time Periods




Related Reading

Johns, Elizabeth. American Genre Painting: The Politics of Everyday Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

Martinez, Katharine, and Page Talbot. Philadelphia’s Cultural Landscape: The Sartain Family Legacy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.

Miller, Lillian B., ed. The Peale Family: Creation of a Legacy, 1770-1870. New York: Abbeville Press in association with the National Portrait Gallery and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, exhibition catalog, 1996.

Naeve, Milo M. and John C. Van Horne. 150 Years of Philadelphia Painters and Paintings: Selections from the Sewell C. Biggs Museum. Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia and The Sewell C. Biggs Museum of American Art, Delaware, 1999.

Scharf, John Thomas, and Thompson Westcott. “Art and Artists.” In History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, vol. II (Philadelphia: L.H. Everts & Co., 1884), 1029-1075.

Sewell, Darrell, Kathleen A. Foster, et. al. Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, exhibition catalogue, 1976.

Vogel, Morris J. Cultural Connections: Museums and Libraries of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.

Related Collections

Research and Archives, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building, 128 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia.

Library and Archives, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia.

Anne and Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library (Furness Library), University of Pennsylvania, 220 S. Thirty-Fourth Street, Philadelphia.

Art Department, Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia.

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, 1210 Polett Walk, Philadelphia.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia.

Library Company of Philadelphia, 1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia.

Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, 15 S. Seventh Street, Philadelphia.

Related Places

Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia. The collection includes notable paintings by the French Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, and Early Modern painters, including local artists William Glackens, Charles Demuth, and Horace Pippin.

Brandywine River Museum of Art and Andrew Wyeth Studio, 1 Hoffman’s Mill Road, Chadds Ford, Pa. The collection features work by N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, and Jamie Wyeth.

Delaware Art Museum, 2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, Del. The collection includes more than 500 works by Howard Pyle as well as paintings and illustrations by his students N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Violet Oakley, Frank Schoonover, and Stanley Arthurs.

Demuth Museum, 120 E. King Street, Lancaster, Pa. The collection features the work of Charles Demuth.

Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catharine Street, Philadelphia, Pa. The collection includes paintings by Robert Henri and Violet Oakley; exhibitions feature the work of contemporary artists.

Institute of Contemporary Art, 118 S. Thirty-Sixth Street, Philadelphia, Pa. Changing exhibitions feature a wide variety of contemporary artists.

James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 S. Pine Street, Doylestown, Pa. The collection includes work by the Pennsylvania Impressionists.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118-128 N. Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pa. The collection includes work by many of the painters in this essay. Highlights include Benjamin West’s 14-by-25-foot Death on the Pale Horse (1817), Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington – The “Lansdowne” Portrait (1796), John Vanderlyn’s Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos (1809-13), Charles Willson Peale’s Portrait of the Artist in his Museum (1822), and John Neagle’s Pat Lyon at the Forge (1829).

Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pa. The collection includes work by many of the painters in this essay. Highlights include Gustavus Hesselius’ portraits of Lapowinsa and Tishcohan (c.1735), Charles Willson Peale’s The Staircase Group (1795) featuring his sons Raphaelle and Titian, Benjamin West’s Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky (c.1816), Edward Hicks’ Penn’s Treaty with the Indians (1830-1835), Thomas Eakins’ The Gross Clinic (1875; co-owned by PAFA), Mary Cassatt’s Portrait of Alexander J. Cassatt and His Son Robert (1884), and Henry Ossawa Tanner’s The Annunciation (1898).

Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia, Pa. The collection includes paintings by Benjamin West, Edward Moran, Violet Oakley, the Pennsylvania Impressionists, and numerous contemporary painters including a focus on women artists.



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