Making American Artists


On View: “Making American Artists: Stories from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1776–1976”
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA)
Through April 2, 2023

American artists - painting of George Washington
Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), “George Washington at Princeton, 1779,” oil on canvas, 93 x 58 1/2 in., Gift of Maria McKean Allen and Phebe Warren Downes through the bequest of their mother, Elizabeth Wharton McKean, 1943.16.2

From the organizers:

Over 100 of the most iconic works in this famed collection spotlights both well-known names in American art and traditionally underrepresented artists, posing questions about what it has meant to be an American artist over two centuries.

“Making American Artists” explores the role that art has played in influencing our national history and identity over 200 years and embraces untold stories about women artists, LGBTQIA+ artists, and artists of color. Artworks will be displayed in five thematic sections—portraiture, history painting, still life, genre scenes, and landscape—rather than in chronological order. This design allows for objects from different time periods to be shown together, creating striking visual counterpoints and sparking new conversations.

American artists - Edward Loper
Edward L. Loper (1916-2011), “Sunday Afternoon,” 1948, Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in., PAFA, 1970.34, gift of Dr. George J. Roth

Each of the featured artists’ careers were shaped by PAFA, whether through their education or the exhibition and display of their work, and the exhibition offers a critical re-examination of this legacy while shedding light on PAFA’s continuing role in shaping American art in the 21st century. Iconic American artists with one or more works in the exhibition include Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, Barkley Hendricks, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, May Howard Jackson, Alice Neel, Georgia O’Keefe, Charles Willson Peale, Sonia Sekula, Henry O. Tanner, Dox Thrash, and Andrew Wyeth.

“‘Making American Artists’ is an epic collection of American art, featuring some of our nation’s most famous images and artists in new conversations with each other,” says Eric Pryor, President and CEO of PAFA. “When Charles Willson Peale founded PAFA with the sculptor William Rush in 1805, they created an institution that was devoted to groundbreaking initiatives in championing American art and artists—what that looks like has changed considerably throughout the last 217 years. This exhibition explores PAFA’s impressive collection with a critical eye and emphasizes its transformative contribution to the history of American Art.”

Chief of Curatorial Affairs and the Kenneth R. Woodcock Curator of Historical American Art Dr. Anna Marley led the curation of the 103 objects in the exhibition from PAFA’s collection of over 16,000 objects. Marley says, “‘Making American Artists’ asks integral questions about PAFA’s role in defining what American art was and is, and who gets to be considered an American artist. When you have a collection full of iconic art, that has been developed over more than 200 years, you have an opportunity and obligation to tell both familiar and surprising stories.”

Horace Pippin (1888-1946), "John Brown Going to his Hanging," 1942, oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 30 1/4 in., John Lambart Fund, 1943.11
Horace Pippin (1888-1946), “John Brown Going to his Hanging,” 1942, oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 30 1/4 in., John Lambart Fund, 1943.11

The show will travel on a tour organized by the American Federation of Arts.

Related Programs:

March 11: Carol Soltis, the premier scholar of the Peale Family of artists, will give a gallery talk about recent discoveries and outcomes of a multi-year investigation of the ”Washington at Princeton” painting by Charles Willson Peale.

April 5: “The Freedman” with Kelvin L. Parnell Jr. (Ph.D. candidate at University of Virginia and a 2020 Wyeth Foundation fellow at the Smithsonian American Art Museum)


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